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MEDIA-ARGENTINA: Fighting Stereotypes of Slums ‘From the Inside’

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 5 2009 (IPS) - A group of local residents from Villa 1-11-14, a slum on the outskirts of the Argentine capital, put out a magazine aimed at breaking down the stereotypes propagated by the mainstream media, which associate neighbourhoods like theirs only with drugs, crime and marginalisation.

Desde Adentro (From the Inside) is the name of the publication produced by a group of men and women from the shantytown in Bajo Flores on the south side of Buenos Aires. Villa 1-11-14 is home to some 60,000 of the roughly 13 million people living in Greater Buenos Aires.

Many of the people who live in the vast slum neighbourhoods ringing Buenos Aires, known as “villas miseria,” are immigrants from neighbouring countries like Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay. Others are indigenous people or mestizos (of mixed-race European and Amerindian heritage) from impoverished rural areas in northern Argentina.

“The magazine is an alternative media outlet that has a print run of 3,000 and serves as a link among the city’s different community centres,” Agustín Garone, one of the writer/editors told IPS. “We get together on Saturdays and debate things, we hold workshops, and whatever emerges gets written down.”

The project, financed by the Buenos Aires city government, seeks to “generate an image that contrasts with the labels put on us by the big media outlets, which associate poverty with crime, and thus only generate negative views of the neighbourhood,” said Garone.

The main issues focused on by the magazine are youth, education, housing problems, health and insecurity, which is a problem in the neighbourhood because the police rarely venture in, and when they do, they arrive too late.

The publication is also focused on strengthening ties with other neighbourhood community centres around the city.

“We are not interested in selling conflict, or in fear-mongering. We have a different conception of communication, which is to give the community, which has no other voice, a place to express itself,” said Garone.

He said it is important for local residents to show the efforts being made by the community, such as the challenges faced by neighbourhood soup kitchens, the women who work with young drug addicts, and the workshops held for children with special needs.

But the publication is also a tool to fight the prejudice and stereotypes fuelled by the media, which portray slums merely as hotbeds of criminal activity, while ignoring the fact that many people who live there are hard-working manual labourers, seamstresses or domestic workers, and students.

One of the magazine’s sections is “El escrache” – “The Outing”, a term coined for protests in which groups of hecklers go to the homes of people accused of human rights abuses and loudly denounce them.

“El escrache” chooses a news item or specific coverage by the media, and provides a response “from the inside.”

One of the issues denounced journalist Facundo Pastor from the América TV station, which won a “best investigative report” prize at the prestigious New York Festivals for a report on Villa 1-11-14 titled “La favela argentina”.

In the documentary, whose title refers to Brazil’s “favelas” or shantytowns, Pastor lamented that this Buenos Aires slum lacks the picturesque hills, ocean view and “garotas” (young women) of Brazil’s favelas, described Villa 1-11-14 as bleak, and said that to play a football game with a group of local kids, he had to put on a bullet-proof vest.

The journalist also said he agreed to the match to “break down the mistrust of the little narco-soldiers.”

In “Desde Adentro”, while local residents acknowledged that there are problems and difficulties among the most marginalised people in the neighbourhood, they complained about and refuted Pastor’s discriminatory statements.

“Not everything here is peachy, but it’s not that bad either,” Alejandro Devita, another local involved in producing “Desde Adentro” told IPS. “We know better than anyone else about the bad parts, we don’t ignore them. But the magazine can be an instrument to show other aspects, and to help people understand us better.”

Devita said that in the neighbourhood, there is “incredible social work going on, with a lot of people working hard to do things,” but he added that they suffer from discrimination fuelled by the media’s portrayal of local residents as drug addicts and delinquents.

Some complain that because of where they live, it’s hard to find a job. They also say ambulances often won’t come into the neighbourhood.

“I don’t like how they say things on TV,” says Soledad Salinas, another of the magazine’s writer/editors. “Both good and bad things are going on here, but the reporters say that kids here are just doing drugs, although good things also happen to our children, and we work hard for those good things to happen.”

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