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“The Media Lynching of Mídia Ninja”

FdoX

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These are the currentFacebook numbers for the Brazilian media collective Mídia Ninja, which has received intense media exposure relative to the modest extent of its actions. As a point of comparison, consider the likedness of Anonymous Brasil at 1.1 million.

Source: Luciano Martins Costa | Brasilianas.Org

The Lynching of Media Ninja

A prominent topic of debate in Brazilian journalism circles of late is Mídia Ninja — an acronym for Narrativas Independentes, Jornalismo e Ação — …

MN is a sort of rhizome that comes together to produce live, streaming video and other media direct from street demonstrations and other popular manifestations.  It fields a mobile production and distribution center that fits in a shopping cart, which is pretty cool.

Some of the most well respected minds in the Brazilian press have worked very hard in recent days on a coordinate operation designed to demoralize the cultural production collective known as Fora do Eixo — and,  as a side effect, to demonize the media activism movement known as Media  Ninja.

Costa goes on to detail how the mainstream press — even the semi-alternative Carta Capital —  has worked to recreate the movement as a folk demon. The storm of negative comment began with the Roda Viva interview with representatives of the two interrelated groups —  Bruno Torturra  and Pablo Capilé —  on TV Cultura’a Roda Viva.

I will translate part of Costa’s defense of the movement, then move on to the group’s rebuttal of criticism from Carta Capital magazine, which, as a follow-up to its original article on the two networks, ran a lengthy interview with their two leading figures..

It is hard to say whether this tendency  is organized in the same way that one plans newspaper coverage of an issue or event, but there is powerful evidence of a shared strategy in press coverage of the group.  There is a palpable urgency in the  attempt to deconstruct an alternative media that  emerges from cultural productions on the margins of the communication and entertainment industry — and the agents of this strategy have strong motives to do so.

It is interesting to observe how broad a spectrum of participants this operation involves, from the noisiest, most ferocious voices of  the politically reactionary to thinkers identified with a progressive agenda. A mosaic of discourse is formed, ranging from the customary snarling of mad-dog bloggers to the more or less sophisticated ruminations of intellectuals regarding the contemporary media climate.

Among the most ferocious of these attacks is an article published by the Folha de S. Paulo on August 18 and headlined “Fora do Eixo left behind a trail of debt in Cuiabá.”  The article details the expenses — a total of R$ 60,000 — unpaid by the organizers of an alternative music festival held in 2006 in Mato Grosso’s capital city, where Fora do Eixo staged some of its first events.

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I read that story. Apparently, the group created an alternative currency to pay its bills, convertible upon request to official cash — a sort of promissory note.  It was successful in convincing local merchants to accept this “currency,” which looked a bit like Monopoly money. The finance director was interviewed and convincingly reported that debts are being repaid in parcel payments negotiated with creditors.

The Folha report is built on testimony from local merchants who say they are trying to recover the debt for three years now, and finishes with the so-called “other side”: a short explanation of the woman responsible for the finances of the group, who acknowledges the debt and saying that creditors would be repaid.

But look here, if the debt is acknowledged and repayment has been negotiated, why all the sturm und drang?

If the same critieria were used for all similar cases, the Folha would have to run headlines regarding the alleged debt owed by Globo to the tax authority, along with the scandal over the disappearance of the case file.

From the same point of view, it is to be expected that the press would report closely on the drama of hundreds of journalists and other professionals who for more than a decade have fought for their labor rights, which have been misappropriated by media companies.

These workers were literally swindled out of their benefits. There is evidence of chicanery on the part of the labor court and accusations of misuse of pension fund assets. The press has never been interested  in this topic in the slighest.

An Unthinkable Partnership

The main target of the attacks is the lead coordinator of Fora do Eixo, Pablo Capilé, who has been described as an “underworld emperor,” as though cultural activism were a clandestine world outside the law. The bombardment includes accusations of “slave labor,” “sexual exploitation,” “formation of a sect,” and other allegations that do not survive even the most superficial analysis, such as damaging references to public competitions in which the group participated, seeking funds for some of their projects.

Now, there is no record of the activists who are coming forward now to publicly accuse of keeping them handcuffed by the ankles to a table at the Casas Fora do Eixo, or that anyone was abducted to become members of the collectives.

The competitive bidding process was an innovation introduced by former minister of culture Gilberto Gil, which enabled a more democratic division of official incentives for the production of music, dance and visual art, with less bureaucracy than is demanded by the Lei Rouanet.

The Shell Game

There is, however, a more interesting topic in this story which the press has overlooked. It involves fraudulent use of funds by big production companies, which are in the habit of using shell corporations to obtain  a series of awards for a single beneficiary. Singer  Claudia Leitte, for example, is accused of having obtained nearly R$ 6 million in official subsidies using this artifice.

We could list many more examples of the exaggeration by the press of errors or abuses committed by some of the thousands of project of  Fora do Eixo. What is more interesting is the personalization of the accusations, focusing on the figure of Capilé – and for that reason identifying Mídia Ninja as their primary target.

The demonization of this phenomenon goes so far as to produce an unthinkable meeting of the minds between Veja and Carta Capital magazines.

Carta Capital contributes to the attack on the image of Fora do Eixo and Mídia Ninja when it states that ex-members of the collective are  afraid to speak out against the group, which is treated as  though it were a dangerous criminal organization. This provides Veja’s most virulent columnist with his cue for one of  his customary diatribes.

When the two extremes of the ideological spectrum meet, a perfect circle of conservatism is formed which rejects all change and innovation.

Carta to Carta

We turn now to the exchange of correspondence  between Fora do Eixo and Carta Capital, which the group calls “unethical” in not revealing that the author of the material is a former participant in the collective.

I will translate a passage that should give us some idea of what the group says and does, in its own words.

Carta Capital has just published an article with the headline  “Fora do Eixo – Former members relate how the movement functions.”

Listed as co-author of the piece is Lino Bocchini, a former partner of Fora do Eixo who broke with and left the network. This occurred just as he was dismissed as [managing editor] of Trip magazine, when there was the possibility of his becoming  more involved in and dedicated to the project of creating Mídia Ninja.

For more than a year, Lino had been one of the most dedicated, ever-present and crucial persons involved in the creation and development of PósTV and the NINJA laboratory . During the time we worked together, we provided Bocchini with ample support, in the Folha x Falha case.

A modest little media watchdog blog titled “Falha de São Paulo” — “The Failure of S. Paulo” — was sued for six figures by the Folha with an for copyright infringement. See

 We produced dozens of live programs, coproduced by the Casa Fora Do Eixo team, drawing public attention to the case.

We ignored dozens of recommendations that we distance ourselves from Lino. They said we wouild attract the anger of the Folha de S. Paulo, by getting involved in a fight that was not our own. But we never approached the case in this way. We always believed that his cause was just and fundamental to the struggle for true freedom of expression. We gave him our solidarity at a time when his reputation as a journalist was at risk.

In an opportunistic manner, the current manager of online media at Carta Capital, who reported on and signed his name to the article, is personally involved in the issue and is using this space as a platform from which to disqualify our work.

The article is part of a symbolic lynching and campaign of accusations against us. Anonymous or not. It attacks the good name of Fora do Eixo leadership. The purpose of these  accusations, given that not a shred of evidence exists to support them, is to attack the reputation of the network and its participants.

The headline that ran on CC’s cover is itself evidence of the story’s bias. We believe it is unethical to attempt to profile a network with thousands of active members based solely on the testimony of a handful of persons who have left the network, focusing exclusively on their complaints. The article amasses exceptions and tries to forge them into a rule.

The story is very clearly designed to reheat accusations that arose in the social networks last week, accusations that Fora do Eixo  had already addressed in an official note and in the roll-out of its transparency portal ( http://www.foradoeixo.org.br).

As to the article, we would point out:

Numbers of Fora do Eixo

The article insists on a false thesis launched by Beatriz Seigner on the social networks: that Fora do Eixo overstates its numbers. In order to defend its point of view, CC overlooks all the other houses, in Porto Alegre , São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Belém and states in a dishonest manner that the network has no more than 70 members.

Carta Capital’s own article contradicts itself when it falsely accuses the network of involvement in the nomination of state secretaries in places like Acre and Rondônia, where FdE has a history of activity and construction. 

A constantly updated census indicates that FdE has 18 Houses, 91 Collectives and 650 Partner Collectives. Events such as Grito Rock were produced in an integrated fashion in more than 200 cities all over the world and the Rede Brasil de Festivais holds 130 events all over Brazil.

Nomination of Secretaries

The CC article brushes aside our advocacy for cultural public policy and the legitimacy of civil society, which is equated with lobbying when it seeks to broaden its political participation, 

None of the names cited by CC achieved office because the network nominated them. A former minister, like Juca Ferreira, does not need to nominated by anyone. Here the article speculates and lies. It is normal and legitimate, based on our local prominence, that members of the Eixo be invited to assume public office. We believe that in order to accept this opportunity, the individual should first cut off ties with the network. The individual should not take part in the local collective and should resign from all decision-making positions at the state and national level as well. 

Fora Do Eixo and Mídia NINJA

Lino Bocchini and Pietro Locatelli are trying to sustain the thesis that Mídia Ninja is a cover identity used to avoid alleged fallings-out with other social movements. This thesis is refuted by the various manifestations of support that FdE has received from such representative movements as the MST, the National Human Rights Movement, and various Latin American organizations, clearly demonstrating that we  do not need to resort to  artifice to protect  the reputation of Fora do Eixo . 

More, neither Fora do Eixo nor Mídia NINJA has ever tried to cover up facts or to imply that the two of them were separate initiatives. To the contrary. 

In public, we consistingly emphasize the organic relationship between the two. Mídia Ninja is a network incubated by Fora Do Eixo — incubation being the logic proper to the Solidary Economy.  Now, dozens of individuals and some collectives work as Ninjas and feel themselves to be the proprietors of the network, as well they should.

Relation with Political Parties

Public policies are not partisan. We do not believe in the policies of the government. We believe in policies of the State. The State is not the PT, much less the PSDB!  Some parties are open to dialogue and others not, but policy has nothing to do with it.

The project is officially supported by the state secretary of culture. The PSDB is the party of government, and has been for nearly 20 years.  

Trying to create a relationship between Fora do Eixo and the PSDB is clearly an attempt to undermine our cooperation with leftist social movements.

Serious militants who have followed the debate known that FdoE directly opposes the PSDB, based on our responses  during the Roda Viva interview and on the legal offensive by Senator Aloysio Nunes targeting our network.

Nunes, a PSDB Senator, has called for an investigation of cultural budget allocations to FdoE. A quick snapshot, via G1

Leader of the PSDB in the Senate, Aloysio Nunes (SP) has filed a request for information from the ministries of mines and energy,  treasury  and culture about the allocation of federal funds to … Fora do Eixo..

Fora do Eixo has entered into accords with the federal government. Aloysio Nunes demands explanations of allocations to the group by Petrobras, Banco do Brasil  and the Ministério da Cultura ao grupo.

The Senator’s blog asks, “Who bankrolls Caprile?” His question is

… based on an article in Veja magazine this week titled “The Ninja of the Workers Party.” The article compares accounting spreadsheets of FDE with official records of public investments .

According to Veja, Capilé was named, in 2010, as a member of the technical committee on music for the Fundo Nacional de Cultura — a body that finances projects with government money and whose waiting list includes a petition for R$ 2 million from Fora do Eixo. Veja said that in an interview with FDE on Roda Viva, TV Cultura, Capilé said the FdE spends R$3 to R$ 5 million per year, of which 7% at a maximum is public funding.

However, a look at the accounting records on the Internet tells a different story …

Odd, that the PSDB would attack for partisan bias a group funded by its own most powerful state government.

Expropriation of Personal Property

This is not a practice the FdE engages in. The treatment of this topic in the article is slanderous.  …

Violence and Intimidation

The network does not engage in any type of violence or intimidation, if only because we see  no point in attacking the physical or emotional integrity of any person. We have operated for ten years without any accusations of aggression, persecution or threatening behavior. The production of news that make these acccusations without evidence or without being reported to the competent authorities are slanderous and merely contribute  to feeding a certain narrative that criminalizes social movements.

Books and Films

The CC article lies once mroe when it cites the book 48 Laws of Power in reference to the political activity of  Fora do Eixo. This book has no place in our repertoire or our studies. CC engages in speculation and lies once more in focusing on the film cited by Lais Belini, which like the book just cited has never been included in the network’s debates or been prohibited from circulating.

Published in 1998 by Robert Greene and Jost Elffers, the book sets out to distill the wisdom of the ages in the matter of gaining and maintaining power. The usual sort of wisdom literature of the corporate samurai.

We are sorry to see a magazine like Carta Capital wasting the opportunity to debate topics relating to the network and practices of Fora do Eixo such as solidarity economy, activism and labor, the dynamics of networks and social, political and cultural movements.

As we did last week, we will continue to develop our transparency portal and make ourselves available for public debate on these topics.

We live in a time of great changes. In June, the Brazilian press allied itself with various movements on the contemporary scheme, but the technological changes we have experienced recently place us in the eye of the hurricane, in this process of dramatic social change brought about by the Digital.

We are a laboratory experimenting with mounting a digital network unique  to Brazil and perhaps unique in all the world. We have worked hard in the last decade within the cultural scene and for the last three years, at last, we have been engaged in constant dialogue with various sectors of Brazilian society. We perform this work openly and transparently, viewing ourselves as a Beta-level project in a process of constant realization. And finally, we have achieved enormous visibility in recent days due to the quality and quantity of the questions posed by Midia Ninja.

As a movement deeply rooted in the social networks, we suffer the onus and enjoy the bonus of everything that happens there. That is to say, it is natural for a movement that questions systems of representation on the network, to be subject to the results of this process. We see this as a major opportunity to learn more about how to improve our processes.  […]

We are the pretext for a grand debate that must necessarily take place. We are pleased to be able to raise topics and debates for civil society. We continue our work believing that we are making progress toward a deeper understanding of the path Brazil must take.