Sue Branford in Brazil. Post 2. Rio, September 6 2013.
Mídia Ninja is ubiquitous in the new Brazil of protest. It’s difficult to go to a demonstration in Rio without someone at some point mentioning them. Indeed, this collective of young journalists – about 2,000 across Brazil – is one of the most interesting phenomena to have emerged in Brazil recently.
I discovered during a long chat with Felipe Peçanha, a member of their 20-strong team in Rio, that Mídia Ninja has in fact been around for more than a decade. But it came to national prominence in only June this year, when it was on the streets in many cities broadcasting live from the protests. Because of its strong links with social movements, it was warmly welcomed. When demonstrators were arrested, manhandled by the violent military police, or drenched with tear gas, they often appealed to Mídia Ninja to film what was happening to them. The outrage at police brutality caught on video by Mídia Ninja forced the authorities to take action to rein in the police.
The welcome given to Mídia Ninja during the demonstrations contrasted strongly with the hostility shown towards Brazil’s huge TV conglomerate TV Globo, which was widely accused of seeking to portray the protesters in the most damaging light possible, and was often targeted by angry demonstrators. TV Globo reporters became so afraid of reprisals that at times they went out into the streets without any of the normal equipment that clearly identified them as part of the TV Globo empire. At one stage, TV Globo was so short of film of the protests that it bought footage from Mídia Ninja!
Talking to Felipe, it soon became clear that, despite the tendency of some demonstrators to see themselves as something completely new, without any links with Brazil’s long history of political struggle, Mídia Ninja emerged in part thanks to an initiative of the PT (Workers’ Party) government. When he was minister of culture, Gilberto Gil became concerned about the cultural dominance of the Sāo Paulo–Rio–Brasilia triangle. He set up pontos de cultura (cultural hotspots), and helped to create a movement called Fora do Eixo (Outside the Axis), which began to organise festivals of local music and other cultural activities in areas outside the triangle.
With funding from the ministry, Mídia Ninja start to organise music festivals, and even today this activity is an important part of its work and provides most of the funding for the more political strands.
What will Midia Ninja lead to? The young journalists are ambitious, and they believe that they have a chance to make real inroads into the dominance of the grande imprensa (established press), which is widely discredited, particularly among the young, because of its close links with the government and powerful economic groups. Moreover, as elsewhere in the world, many of Brazil’s newspapers are facing very serious financial problems.
So what does Mídia Ninja propose? It wants to continue with the live transmissions for which it had become renowned. Indeed, with so many social movements turning to them for support, this part of their work is clearly gaining momentum. When I visited the indigenous village near the Maracanã football stadium, the Indians told me that they would have been expelled from the building by the military police (see blog post by LAB Editor Nayana Fernandez) had it not been for Mídia Ninja’s live transmissions. These transmissions caused such public consternation that the state government was forced to halt the operation.
But Mídia Ninja want to do much more. They want to run a proper news service, to hold serious studio debates, to carry out investigative journalism with Agencia Pública, and many other things. In short, they want to revolutionise journalism in Brazil.
And how will they fund themselves? They have lots of ideas about that too, one of which is to use crowd-funding so that their supporters can make small donations when they particularly like a story. Mídia Ninja already has 100,000 people visiting its website. That’s a huge group of potential funders.
Will they make it work? Who knows? If they do, it could transform Brazil.