Positive news, everyone!

Two things struck me at the same time last week, while I was in belligerent and slightly drunk mode. I noticed the existence of a thing called Positive News, a “solution-focused” newspaper that writes about fluffy, nice things like sustainability. This provoked the desire in me to commit something definitely negative, maybe even criminal, upon the perpetrators of this online rag. Yes, it’s a free interweb and there are certainly more harmful things out there on it. Bless them, they are only trying to do something good I guess.
Another memory from my local paper days springs to mind however. And I thought I was wasting my time there! As happened on a daily, perhaps hourly basis, a right wing battleaxe called to complain. This time, her complaint was that we constantly covered “bad news” and we ought to have reported on the mural that children from the local school had painted to decorate a subway. When I checked, it had in fact been on the front page, due to our dubious policy at the time of putting some jolly unrelated picture on the front page next to the main story, usually featuring children or flowers. As it was so dull, the old dear had simply failed altogether to engage with it, but nevertheless had taken the opportunity to beat us with that old stick, that the media only focuses on the bad, which is wrong, as there is so much good out there.
Yes, sustainability is a good thing, but how do we know we need it? Could it be that good quality, investigative reporting has revealed issues such as deforestation, often against the will of the powerful perpetrators? Will “positive inspiration” be enough to make people want to change the world?
It’s a dilemma I often face here. A piece I read in the Australian press about Rio’s crime in the lead up to the Olympics was a beautifully-written dramatic account of an incident in which a helicopter was shot down – two years ago. That was before a whole series of measures have seen a lot of change in the city, but plenty of editors believe no one will be as gripped by the complex reality as they might be a tale of children cowering under tin roofs as bullets and grenades fly ahead. However, you can have responsible journalism without the need to sanitise. Democracies allow us to do that, however complex this becomes in a free market which encourages the excesses of the Murdochs of this world.
The other nugget which had me spit out my chopp was the disclosure that Cariocas, Rio’s residents, are the happiest citizens in the world. Due of course, to some scientifically watertight survey. It was in fact a Forbes survey of 10,000 people in 2009 which put it down to “the spirit of celebration” here. Of course it’s true that a city which has summer all round, beautiful beaches, sociable people and an emphasis on physical exercise and partying is pretty jolly, certainly in my experience.
Plenty of intelligent folks here have also talked to me about the legacy of a dictatorship which only ended in 1985. Protests were met with violence and dissidents imprisoned. According to many of those folks, what we have here today is far from a truly independent media, but I imagine in those days the emphasis on “positive news” from the leadership was pretty high. Paste a smile on your face, you won’t have to confront anything unpleasant that way, or go to the Big House for that matter.
I prefer the view of Vinicius de Moraes, the songwriter responsible for Girl from Ipanema, who said it was more important to live than be happy. Exactly what you would expect from a depressive alcoholic who married six times (so at least you could say he was optimistic in some ways).