During our month in Brazil working on our new project VCU.br, my partner Stalin and I met with more than a dozen different community media groups. Every meeting was too short, with us starting off by explaining why we had called them and explaining our work, and then them explaining theirs, and then a brief — too brief — discussion about what we could do together.
All the while we typed away at our laptop, eager to capture all the innovations and unique stories of the Brazilian community/alternative media innovators. Below are our meeting notes, which we hope give a little snapshot of some of the amazing work being done here. I apologize to all the people we met for any mistakes and misrepresentation. When you’re eager to get the full picture in a whirlwind meeting, sometimes the details get lost!
Karen Worcman of the Museum of the Person
The Museum of the Person started by Karen Worcman is an archive of 12,000 personal stories which they have been recording from private citizens the world over for decades. These stories are captured in several ways, many unsolicited by the museum itself — people wanting to share their stories, write their personal histories and mail them to the museum, knowing they will be archived for history; people come to the museum’s recording studio and are interviewed; and museum staff go out into the world to gather the stories.
They also do workshops with NGOs around the world, such as one with Dream Catchers in Tamil Nadu, or by putting up “story booths” in buses and train stations, and going into public schools in Sao Paulo to teach kids to document the histories of their neighborhoods. The stories are archived in a state-of-the-art manner, and most will eventually be online. Already they are searchable and highly used by academics and researchers and school teachers who use the archive to research particular themes — such as trade unions, war, death, family, etc.
We asked Karen about the purpose of the histories. Is it for social change, community action, personal transformation, or a political statement about everyone’s right to a voice? She said one major purpose is to create a record of the personal stories of everyone on the planet. This is a museum after all.
We also asked about the process and the methodology. Because most of the personal histories are in video and they work with the Center for Digital Storytelling (with whom they organize the “day of sharing life stories” once a year) in the Bay Area in the U.S. which has a very set process for story creation, we thought she might have a training methodology that we could incorporate in our work. She said the methodology changes for the purpose of the project, but that when she conducts the interviews, her methodology is that of a historian. Though most of her materials were in Portueguese, she offered to share with us her curriculum that she created in Tamil Nadu which is in English, and we will surely incorporate this methodology into our training.
Stalin pointed out the power of this method for documenting village histories in India, as he has done with KMVS, where they wrote the personal histories of everyone of the 900 villages in Kutch, for broadcast on the community radio stations. Karen’s methodology could be very useful for the community radio scene in India, which (with licenses only being allowed for the past three years) is struggling for methodologies for creating content.
A few things struck us in particular in meeting Karen: one is the documentary use of this content for research and academia. We have wondered whether there is interesting anthropological evidence in our raw video tapes from the CVUs, and Karen has demonstrated the importance of community media for research purposes. The other is the seriousness of the archive. She has made dozens, if not more, written publications of these personal histories. The third is, of course, the importance and uniqueness of the idea of the world’s history as a collection of millions of personal stories and histories. This was too rich and important an idea for us to explore in such a short meeting!
Bia Barbarasso, Intervoces
Bia is a young Ashoka Fellow who is one of the leaders of the movement to reform media policy in Brazil. The premise of her work is the lack of diversity in the media in Brazil. We met her on our last day in Brazil when she was kind enough to come to the house where we were staying, and it was a great way to end the trip. She was one of the few people we met with a truly multi-pronged approach that combined grassroots action, networking and movement building, training and policy. If Video Volunteers were to work in Brazil in a much deeper way, we would want to work like this.
We contacted her because of an amazing victory she had which we read about on her Ashoka profile, and which we wanted to know more about. A few years ago, she brought a case against a major television station saying that their programming had consistently discriminated against gays and violated their human rights. The basis for the case was a law that says that, because TV licences are granted by the government and are public property, they must show content that is helpful for society. The court agreed with her and ordered the TV station to show human rights focused programming for 30 days in a row!
They were also ordered to pay a small — way too small — amount to assist in the creation of this programming. So Bia issued a call for programming to the documentary producers and media NGOs in Brazil, and received over 500 applications! This was one of her first contacts with the video-producing groups, and it deeply impressed her to see how huge the alternative media scene was. So much great content, and no spaces to share it!
She used the small sum of money for editing, and combined the different video submissions into hour-long programs on a particular theme for one evening’s broadcast. She has since used the success of this project in her lobbying efforts, arguing with the government that Brazil has masses of quality content and the government must give them space to distribute these alternative views. This story fascinated Stalin and me as it was one of the only examples I’ve heard of people successfully using the law to create space on TV for alternative programming.
These are short descriptions of only two of the amazing media activists in Brazil. As I continue to work my way through all my notes, I’ll try to keep writing up these short profiles.