RioOnWatch Dissected by Cambridge Researcher

February 23, 2019—Olympics organizers consistently push the notion that the Games are good for cities, countries, and the international community. A growing body of literature suggests mainstream media coverage has a tendency to celebrate the Olympics while drowning out or dismissing criticisms of the event’s impact on the host city. So how do Olympics critics and activists respond? What are the possibilities for contesting official and celebratory media narratives about the Olympic Games?

Research by former CatComm staff member, Cerianne Robertson, examines the role of CatComm’s favela reporting site, RioOnWatch—and Rio’s Popular Committee on the World Cup and Olympics’ dossiers on human rights violations—in building critical counternarratives about the Rio 2016 Olympics. It traces how these two projects not only documented the negative impacts of the city’s Olympics preparations, but also explicitly asserted that media narratives were serving to hide, misrepresent, or even justify human rights violations and the construction of an exclusive city project.

In light of perceived gaps or deficiencies in mainstream media reporting, RioOnWatch and the dossiers were crucial as autonomous spaces for a different kind of reporting on the Olympic City. They both prioritized the voices and lived experiences of residents of communities impacted by the Games, and took a long-term approach to building relationships and documenting stories over the course of years. At the same time, both projects’ producers still saw the mainstream media as a crucial battleground.

Five key strategies for advancing their counternarratives into the mainstream media included:

  1. Building networks of media contacts;
  2. Creating resources for journalists;
  3. Creating and capitalizing on moments of high media interest;
  4. Providing interviews and support for the press; and
  5. Piling on the social media.

In a 2018 International Journal of Communication article, Cerianne explains how these alternative media projects both criticized and participated in producing the ‘media event’ of the Rio 2016 Olympics. The multimedia report linked to here and featured below zooms in on the work and words of the producers of RioOnWatch and the dossiers, with the aim to support the transfer of knowledge from Rio to future Olympics host cities. It effectively constitutes a how-to manual reflecting RioOnWatch‘s approach and strategy.

Catalytic Communities University Tour 2017