There has been a lot of buzz on social media recently over Mikkel Keldorf Jensen, the Danish journalist who chose to leave Brazil two months before the World Cup. In an April 14th post on his personal Facebook account, Jensen writes (in Portuguese):
"Nearly two and a half years ago, I was dreaming about covering the World Cup in Brazil. The best sport in the world in a wonderful country. I made a plan to study in Brazil, I learned Portuguese and I prepared to return. I returned in September 2013, my dream came true. But today, two months before the World Cup party, I have decided not to continue here. My dream became a nightmare."
He later goes on to explain:
"I spent five months documenting the consequences of the Cup. There have been many: removals, armed forces and military police in (impoverished) communities, corruption, social projects closing. I discovered that all those projects and changes are being done for people like me, a gringo (foreigner) who is also a part of the international press. I am not easily impressed."
I have been working as a journalist in Brazil for nearly seven years. I have accompanied the evolution of many of these projects and changes that have taken place since the country won the bid to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and have seen many things that I probably shouldn't have seen and will never forget. There have been a series of negative things brought on by these mega events, but also many positives that have allowed the country to grow as one of the world's major powers.
The main thing the international tournaments have brought is media attention. During the past two years, journalists from all over the world have gathered in Brazil. The impact this has had over the country was clear during last June's protests, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to speak out against the corruption and misappropriation of tax funds Jensen speaks about in his post. Images from Rio's city center and Sao Paulo's Paulista Avenue were seen all over the world, as well as several other cities (including Fortaleza) which most people outside of Brazil had never heard of. Writers, videographers and photographers swallowed tear gas and risked their lives during violent confrontations between police and protestors to register the historic moment. Our stories demanded accountability from local and FIFA officials and showed the country beyond the stereotype of samba and soccer.
Which is why I take issue when Mr. Jensen makes a bold statement like this one in his Facebook post:
"In March (2014), I was in Fortaleza to visit the most violent city to receive a World Cup match to date. I spoke to some people who put me in touch with children living on the street and I found out many of them have gone missing. Many times, they have been killed when they are sleeping at night in an area with a lot of tourists. Why? To leave the city clean for the gringos and the international press? Is this being done for me?"
He later shares a story about a 13-year-old boy offering him peanuts, who moved him because Jensen has so much and the boy has nothing. But there is no further mention of the children who have been "killed when they are sleeping at night in an area with lots of tourists." Who told him this was happening? was it the 13-year-old boy? other foreigners? an anonymous source? Did he see it himself? If what Jensen claims in this post is true, he missed the opportunity to report on a story that deserved to be published and seen beyond his Facebook page. Fortaleza is not a big hub for international journalists. His story could have made an impact had he done it right (if the story is even true).
I am not familiar with Jensen's work, I have never met him personally and haven't watched the channels he works for, but I honestly don't believe any editor would have rejected a story like this one. Especially if Jensen (as a journalist) backs it up with proof and research.
Many Brazilians frustrated with the corruption claims surrounding the Cup and embarrassed by reports on stadium delays, airports under construction and violence in host cities have rallied behind Jensen and applauded his protest. His Facebook post has received more than 15,000 likes and has been shared more than 33,000 times. In the comments section, many opinions (both for and against) appear in English, Portuguese and Danish.
The "Tribuna do Ceará," a local Fortaleza newspaper, was the first Brazilian outlet to cover the Jensen case on April 15th. They mention the missing children, but don't really look into the claim. The article is mostly focused on the fascination of the journalist who left the South American country.
There are many reasons to grow impatient with Brazil as a foreign journalist: press officers for most organizations are unprofessional, events start with massive delays, bureaucracy impedes the most basic things from running smoothly, everything from rent to food is ridiculously expensive. If these are the motives for Jensen's departure, then that is understandable. But if it is truly about because of what he claims to have "seen" I think it is irresponsible.
So, what's happening with the children?
According to the Public Safety and Social Defense secretariat for the state of Ceara, Jensen's claims are false. The statement was published on the government entity's website yesterday at 6:48 pm local:
"The Public Security and Social Defense Secretariat for the state of Ceara (SSPDS-CE) informs there have not been any registered cases of street children being killed in Fortaleza. The Civil Police emphasize that there are no claims in their stations that support the allegations made by the supposed Danish journalist. The SSPDS reiterates that, in case of real crime, the population should contact the Integrated Police Operations Coordinator over the phone or look for the nearest police station."
Whether the claims are true or false will remain a mystery until some other journalist in Ceara chases the story (and publishes it somewhere other than Facebook). In the end, Jensen's post was mostly good for him. He has gotten his fifteen minutes of fame. We are all talking about him and posting and reposting his rant. He will probably be hired to be a pundit or a critic in Denmark during World Cup broadcasts and will most likely profit from the same things he claims to have left Brazil for. In the meantime, those of us who have chosen to stay here and report on this major event and all the realities surrounding it will fight even harder to see what we are NOT supposed to see because that is our job and we'll cling to the best weapons of our trade: evidence and facts.