To be a photojournalist in Brazil is an activity for passionate storytellers. This premise is especially true for professionals who cover protests and conflicts. The work equipment is extremely overpriced, the risks of the job are great and the pay is absurdly low.
The work has become more complex in the last 5 years for two reasons. 1) The number of people photo- shooting has greatly increase. 2) In the course of the political campaign and the election of the current President, Jair Bolsonaro, photojournalists have been suffering ag- gressions from the police and by citizens who support the new chairman of the country.
WHO IS ON THE STREET TO PHOTOGRAPH PROTESTS?
When there is tension at protests, photojournalists from small, medium and large newspapers, magazines and portals are in the field. This means that the hired professionals are able to rely largely on the support of news outlets or minors to get the job done with something, including the legal matter. The largest group is the independent photojournalists. These professionals face the challenge of getting their work done without the seal of a news outlet, without financial or legal support. Still in the heat of the action, they try to sell the photographs for image news outlets and get an average amount of R$15 (about US$3) per photo. If they can sell them at all.
THE PARADOX OF PRESS IDENTIFICATION
The police and the citizens of the insurgent right, as well as the president’s supporters, know the faces of the photojournalists. In other words, they know in which direction to aim the weapons, fists and verbal aggression. If you identify yourself as a photojournalist, you may be putting yourself in an even more dangerous situation. Therefore, if working unnoticed is the only option, many professionals do not even bother to wear safety equipment.
This is a paradox of the profession in Brazil and perhaps worldwide. On the one hand, protective equipment is essential to preserve the physical integrity of professionals. Nevertheless, the word “press” on helmets and safety waistcoats can be a target on the head or on the back of photojournalists. Against this background, photojournalists have developed new means for their work.
Instead of using helmets and waistcoats with “press” printed on them, photojournalists have opted for detachable Velcro straps that can be easily removed when needed. Curiously, this idea was cribbed from a strategy used by the Brazilian police. Although it is illegal, some police officers remove their badges from their uniforms during protests to prevent attackers from being easily identified. This actually discourages photojournalists from reporting the abuse of force and even physical violence against photojournalists, leading to even more underreporting of the cases.
UNDER-REPORTING OF CASES OF VIOLENCE
I searched the journalists’ union, Arfoc (Brazilian Association of Photograph and Film Reporters) and Abraji (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism) for data on violence against photojournalists. Thus, only Abraji has provided some information. According to Abraji, there were 22 cases of aggression against photojournalists and cameramen in Brazil in 2021. There is a reason why the data on attacks against photojournalists and cameramen is only available for this year. According to Katia Brembatti, the director of the institution, photojournalists were counted together with other media workers in previous years.
When analysing the cases reported by Abraji, based on the work of the author of this article on the ground, one can find a number of acts of vi- olence against photojournalists that are not included in the institution’s short list. Apart from the fact that the journalists’ union and Arfoc fail to provide accurate data, the fact that violence against photojournalists and cameramen in Brazil is underreported is very worrying.
PHOTOJOURNALIST IS THE NARRATOR OF THE FACT
In Brazil, photojournalists and cameramen in print and digital media are the professionals most likely to be directly affected by violence when reporting on protests and conflicts, as they are on the frontline. The photojournalists transmit the information from the field to the text reporters who write the stories in the newsrooms. The photojournalist is thus the narrator of the written facts. Hence, journalism com- panies, public organisations and companies in the sector need to look for mechanisms to ensure the safety of photojournalists and camera operators. This is one of the urgent problems we have to face in Brazil and worldwide. Photo- journalists’ passion is not enough to tell good stories. They also need protection and decent working conditions.
- *Wagner Ribeiro is a Brazilian professorand photojournalist. He has been working for a several newspapers, magazines and TV covering protests, conflicts and humanitarian crises in Latin America, Europe and Middle East.