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Doing the rounds with police journalism in Brazil

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Police journalism is a big business here in Brazil. It’s fast paced, dangerous, often gruesome and sells.

I am in Manaus, Brazil, working with the Amazonas Trade Union for journalists, and had the fortune of meeting Em Tempo’s police journalist, Andre Moreira. When offered the chance to go on a “roda” of the city in search of stories which fit under this, previously unknown to me, category, I enthusiastically, and retrospectively naively, accepted.

One sentence to briefly explain what police journalism is for those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the section: it reports on crimes committed in the city which the police deal with; to be more specific, heinous crimes of which the perpetrators have already been caught and arrested.

And so the shift began. Cramped into a Vauxhall Chevette with three other people we were off; first stop, the police station. The funny thing about police journalism is that the stories are tipped off by the police themselves, or ‘word of mouth’ which normally originates at the police level, or by a government representative. In a strange way, the stories reported are the equivalent of a dramatic, but real, horror book, and it gets lapped up by the newspaper reading public.

Arriving at the police station we were greeted by several serious looking faces, and a room whose corners were occupied by military police, fully armed with guns, knives, and other weapons. Needless to say, I was intimidated. Accompanied by photographer and television crew (one man, one camera) we began our investigation to piece together the story. It turned out that two men, both 29, had been caught following an armed bank robbery from a few months ago. The two men were surrounded and arrested in their home, and found to have been harbouring – along with mounds of cash – several semi-automatic guns, drugs and other weapons. Taking a quick interview and snapping the ‘money shot’ of the criminals we were off again, chasing the next story.

Stop number two, and the most shocking for me: the centre for crimes committed against minors. A child of five years old had been receiving treatment at one of the local hospitals run by an NGO in the area; while she had been left unattended a man of 61 years had taken her and sexually abused her in his hammock. The child was so badly hurt that she was rushed into hospital to receive treatment, the man had been detained. Sadly, and sickeningly, I was told this kind of story appears at least twice a week. The infrastructure in place to protect children is very weak here, and weakens the further to the interior of the country, the countryside, the Amazon, you get.

Shocked and numb, we got back into the car. Our Columbian driver, Ricardo, was driving at lightning speed and expertly dodging cars to get us to the next stop as soon as possible: the Centre for Human Rights. There has been a misunderstanding which resulted in a mother attacking her daughter, 10, with a knife. The mother had fled, and the daughter was in the care of those at the centre. Luckily the damage was mostly superficial, but the shock was certainly not. The daughter, accompanied by her two sisters, was in severe shock. They would stay in the custody of those at the centre until an alternative was arranged.

The shift came to an end, and we went back to the newsroom to type up articles for publication in the next day’s paper. Police journalism is shocking stuff, Andre told me he wanted to leave the section and move to something less heavy. “The problem with police journalism,” he told me, “is that you begin to lose your belief in the goodness of humanity, whilst also becoming desensitised to the crimes committed”.

Is the price too high to pay for big circulation numbers? I thought so.    

 




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