New poster to announce the project in Januária

This week, Januária’s schools and colleges will receive this poster. It invites students to subscribe at the Friends of Januária project, which will take place in September and October, at Olegário Maciel Public School. It says: “Learn journalism skills and how to use digital tools that help to monitor what happens in your town – for example, how public resources are being spent”. To subscribe, the student must be studying at the last semester of High School or he must have graduated between 2008 and 2010. We already sent 120 of these posters to 10 schools and asked them to put them up at their classrooms. Subscriptions can be done until 19/08 at our new blog (in Portuguese): http://amigosdejanuaria.wordpress.com.

Building the contents for the workshops

One of the most interesting parts of the citizen media project “Friends of Januaria” is preparing its content of the workshops. Among other things, this week we started planing the contents we want to discuss during the workshops. Initially, we have defined six main themes that will guide the course: access to information and freedom of expression as human rights; public administration and public budget; corruption; journalism techniques and tools; how to search information and, finally, how to store and process information.

The topics we listed may seem a little weird at first: why talk about the right of access to information and freedom of expression to people that are starting a course on how to access information and share it? Aren’t the concepts of these rights already clear to the population?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Brazil’s Federal Constitution recognizes the right to access to information and also signed the international standards that guarantees it. However, there are few and sparse pieces of legislation that effectively stipulate that all public institutions must give information to the citizens and the ways and conditions in which it must be given. This results in a culture of secrecy that little by little is being changed. As we said before, nowadays there are a lot of initiatives making public data available to the population – these are the ones we want to publicize in this project and teach people how to use them. But we also believe it is very important to contextualize the situation of access to information in freedom of expression in Brazil, so people can realize when their rights are being violated and fight against that, since we still have a long way to go.

That’s why we are planning to structure the workshops in a way that we can have a part with discussions on some topics of theory and a part with more practical techniques (how to make interviews, how to write in a blog, how to find information, etc.). The idea is also to plan activities for the participants to apply their knowledge and get in touch with the reality of the city by visiting places, interviewing people and researching in public databases.

During the next weeks, we hope to share in a deeper way more about each of these topics, since we are starting our researches and soon will start writing the material.

Just to let you know: this week we got in touch with some possible partners in Januaria to introduce the project and they all seemed very open and interested. Here in São Paulo we are still contacting some organizations in order to find the final financial support we need to buy the tickets to Januaria and we have some important meetings this week, so… wish us luck!!

We are Friends of Januária

We are here to introduce to you the project “Friends of Januária”, in central Brazil, which will provide training to citizen reporters to monitor their public administration and budget and fight corruption.

First of all, it is worth telling you a little bit about the access to information in Brazil and about what has been happening in Januária for the last few years. Today, Brazil sees an open access to information movement in which civil society, collectives, NGO’s and individuals are engaged in. There is a long way to go, since Brazil still doesn’t have an Access to Information Law. Some data is already available online, but one of the biggest challenges faced is that the data is spread across many sites, which are difficult to access. Although many journalists have special skills to access that data, the Brazilian media is highly concentrated in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília, the most important towns in Brazil, and they can’t monitor what happens in small towns far from big urban centers.

Let’s take a look in what happens in Januária, a small town in central Brazil with a population of 65,000. Januária has had a recent history of difficulties with its local government – in the span of eight years, the town has gone through seven different mayors, most of them removed from office because of mismanagement of public funds. Well, the town should be the focus of many reports, shouldn’t it? But that doesn’t happen. The local government receives little or no press coverage at all! If it wasn’t for Fabio Oliva’s work, who is a blogger and activist, few would be investigated by media. Oliva is one of the founders of the Association Friends of Januária (Asajan), which has been raising awareness about the issue of local governance among the town’s residents, through investivative journalism work and public awareness campaigns.

The main objective of “Friends of Januária” is that citizens can become reporters of their own towns, getting access to public data. Access to information is a human right and should be available to all! Once they share that public data, they will raise community awareness about how important it is to fight corruption. So, the project’s aim is to provide a course about access to public information which encourages participants to share the collected data through online reports.

We plan to start the course during second semester of 2011. Until now, our biggest challenge is to overcome the barriers posed by high transport costs – we need to move the course educators from São Paulo to Januária. The problem is that it is very expensive to go to one place to another in Brazil!! During the last weeks we have been searching for additional support to the Rising Voices grant because then it would be easier to pay for these costs and provide a longer course. We are confident that we will succeed!

Soon, we will start one of the most important parts of the work: to prepare the course material and its classes. We believe the material and the classes can be used in many other small towns, so we will do our best!! Our idea is to gather knowledge and experiences from different organizations, collectives and individuals that have worked with access to information, public administration monitoring, and corruption investigation. During this step, we will share everything with you here at the blog!