Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Citizen Journalism and Child Rights in Brazil

Olga Bailey discusses her recent research into these issues which has recently been published in Stuart Allan and Einar Thorsen's edited collection, Citizen Journalism: global perspectives (Peter Lang 2009).

Brazil is a country marked by social inequalities. The children of poor families are the first to suffer the consequences of economic and social disparities. Although Brazil has one of the most advanced laws designed to protect the rights of the child – the Statute on the Child and Adolescent (1990) - the current government has invested very little in a programme benefiting children. In some parts of the country, a great proportion of the child population, 62 million under the age of 18, live in conditions of poverty and their lives are marked by the lack of (among other things) a proper education, health care, and dignity; many are victims of prejudice, crime and violence.

In the last decade, this issue – child rights – has been debated in the public sphere, including the mainstream media, the government, politicians, and civil society – NGOs. In part, this public debate has produced several non-governmental initiatives that aims to guarantee that children’s rights are protected - from their basic needs, a decent life, to their rights to information, communication and participation, as citizens in the ‘making’.

My research discusses the potential of citizen-journalism in facilitating social changes in the lives of the vulnerable Brazilian children who have no knowledge of their rights, no visible possibility of inclusion in a society that has relegated them to the second-class status of ‘non-citizen’, with no perspective beyond the world of poverty.

In the framework of a child’s right to communication, children can be viewed as social actors who have a voice in interpersonal communication’ in the family, in the community, as well as in the media. From this perspective, since they have a very restricted access to the mainstream media and are often misrepresented, they can become producers of alternative media, putting across their own views on issues of relevance to their lives thus participating in democratic, pluralistic debates.
This discussion is based on an analysis of a project developed to change the lives of poor children. The project is produced by a non-governmental organization ‘communication and culture’ and funded by national and international organizations.

‘Communication and culture’ has two projects of media literacy carried out in public schools in two states of Brazil – Ceara and Pernambuco. O Clube do Jornal (The Newspaper Club) has been developed in 125 schools. The children are trained in basic journalistic skills and are responsible for producing their ‘newspaper’, which is distributed in the community. Primeira Letras (First Letter) has been developed in 809 public schools and aims to train a couple of teachers in each school to integrate the production of the children’s newspaper into the activities of the classroom. The project aims to generate political awareness towards practices of participation and citizenship and to encourage children to position themselves as social actors with power of agency to work towards individual and social transformation.

My research analyzes the role of citizen-journalism in fostering political participation in the daily lives of young, poor Brazilians in a democratic society that, to date, has not fulfilled its obligation to them. The practice of ‘citizenship’ through alternative media might improve their chances of social recognition and inclusion as citizens in the ‘making’, and in the process improve their quality of life.

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