What lies behind Mídia NINJA?
by: Alberto Suzano
Translated: C. Brayton
The NINJAs remind me a little of Project Ciranda, a volunteer netwok documenting the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2002.
I was able to obtain a press credential by signing up for the group, and I earned my keep with several pieces of standard panel-discussion coverage — Indian programmers discussing why they hated Microsoft! and the like. In return, I received access to the state of the art press center and got to chat with the Boys from Bloomberg.
And let the death of Bradley WIlls not be forgotten.
The Indymedia photographer was gunned down by a Oaxacan death-squad member in full light of day in 2006.
During the demonstrations that took place all over Brazil in June of this year, a group of young persons, armed with Internet-connected 3G cell phones and laptops carried in backpacks, provided the most closely reported and powerful coverage of the events. Transmitting live, they filmed various cases of police ultraviolence and arrests (often arrest was their own). They interviewed demonstrators and, assuming a stance favorable to the demonstrations, were not treated in a hostile manner by protest participants, as were various traditional news organizations, which saw their cars set ablaze and their reporters expelled from the march.
This afforded the Ninjas access to information and images that traditional journalism missed out on. They transmitted “scoops” and contradicted, with a wealth of documentary evidence, the reporting of the major dailies and the TV networks, succeeding in sharing heir content throughout Brazil, via Internet on a massiive scale.
Calling themselves Mídia NINJA — an abbreviation of the Portugue Narrativas Independentes, Jornalismo e Ação — the group took shape not long before the protests on the initiative of journalist Bruno Torturra.
In a sort of manifesto, Bruno lists a variety of serious dysfunctions in the journalistic profession, including frozen salaries, lack of autonomy, mass firings, and a lack of unity among journalists. He says he concluded that journalists dissatisfied with their lot should attempt something different. And so, Mídia NINJA was formed as part of the cultural collective Fora do Eixo (FdE).
But if NINJA is a group that defines itself politically — (as was later demonstrated by its coverage of the protests — we must ask, in whose service does it operate? Does they group militate for democratization of the media or for a slice of market share? It has so far issued no letter of principles to orient its members.
Apparently, they only publicize popular manifestations related to its viewing public –consisting mostly of middle-class viewers — reporting from within the events as they unfold. There are, however, certain aspects of the project that demonstrate what lies behind this youth group.
Political Positioning vs. Independence
No journalist is impartial. The myth of objectivity exists only in order for the corporate media to market its way of thinking as truth, beyond good and evil.
Alternative journalism is no different: In fact, it is more so because protest groups are more explicit in defining their political positions. It is necessary, however, that material resources do not interfere with production, at the risk of damaging the organization’s editorial independence.
Let me explain this a little better. When they affiliated themselves with FdE, the Ninjas obtained financing from FdE for the alternative project they had devised. But FdE is financed by public funds (the result of a competitive process), receives patronage from private companies and maintains ties with certain political grous, such as Rede, the Greens, and the Workers Party.
These have no interest in, for example, the massive expansion of struggles for the basic demands that began with the protests of June.
As parties of order with many political favors to satisfy — and in some casea covered with a veneer of innovation –these parties are not going to construct methods for workers and young people to fully realize an explosive questioning of the regime, calling into doubt a variety of its structures and proposing realistic alternatives.
Starting with the materialist concept that what determines choices (in this case, the editorial line of an alternative journalism) are the material conditions, a relationship forms between financiers of the group and its content producers, in the Ninja case. This process is not unlike what takes place in the traditional news media.
To question the social order deeply and arrive at the root of the problem, avoiding falling prey to corruption along the way, there must be political independence, which is impossible without economic independence. The Ninjas lack this independence.
The same is doubly true when we examine the concepts of FdE for the expansion of its high-capillarity network. In a recent report that circulated among the social networks … film maker Beatriz Seigner gives some schocking examples of how art is what is least important about the network of collectives, [whose main purpose is] the expansion of the FdE brand, even if for this purpose it must ally itself with legislators, culture secretaries, major business owners, and the like, who have absolutely no interest in improving basic services to the popular and democratizing culture and information.
A sample of this contradiction is the aversion of many of the most dissident of the political groups based in the periphery, such as the São Paulo Hip Hop movement, The Mothers of May, the Cordão of the Lie, and the resident assocation of the Favela do Moinho, among others, customarily expel members of FdE from their protests, accusing them of trying to represent their cause, without having earned the right to do so, in maintaing relations with government and opposition figures of the worst kind.
“Ah, but they covered and continue to cover the protests.” Yes, but so far, the coverage has not yet entered into direct contradiction with the interests that back it, partly because the mass impact it has achieved (see how the major dailies began supporting the protests).
The Ninjashave accompanied the young social network users on their marches, establishing their market share and their principal thermometer. According to Seigner, meanwhile, it is a common practice in cultural production to “depersonalize” the individual such that FdE appears as a major producer, even if the artist in question does not identify itself as part of the collective. That is to say, the authorship of the videos produced is also held in check.
The Analogic World
The group certainly has its merits. The Ninjas hit the streets and genuinely “inaugurated ” the live transmission by 3G cellular phone in Brazil. They accomplished something of national importance and did it with scarce resources.
But what about the thousands of journalists from small news organizations all over Brazil and the working conditions in which they find themselves? What about the workers who still consume information in an analogic format?
Torturra’s tirade against the awful working conditions of the Brazilian journalist is on the mark, but it proposes an incorrect exit strategy. Instead of questioning how to alter the structures that command the major media corporations — (the ideological right hands of the powerful, who use public concessions, such as TV channels, to serve their private ends) — or calling for the nationalization of broadcast channels under the control of the workers, Torturra prefers to found a group that is prepared for immediate action but which, at most, encourages other journalists to do the same.
As it happens, this exit strategy does not question the way in which national news organizations set the news agenda. On the contrary, This strategy in fact corroborates mainstream agenda-setting.
If the model FdE/NINJA were to expand, forming private companies organized as nodes in a capillary network, which, under conditions distant from those established by the bourgeois legal order, exploited the labor of its “collaborators,” these networks would succeed. But it goes without saying that there exists too little space for all journalists to follow the model in this manner and succeed in maintaining the dignity of their lifestyle.
In an interview with TV Cultura’s Roda Viva, cultural productPablo Capilé, a found of FdE, said that NINJA is capable of oxygenating the conventional media.
But the population does not want the major media order to be oxygenated in order to provide what should be public property — access to quality information — in a proprietary manner, filling the pockets of owners by reinforcing stereotypes or criminalizing labor movements and the poor. The struggle is creating a genuine democratization so that workers can freely choose what content to consume or create.
Mídia NINJA provied that there exists a signficant sapce of counterinformation that the Left has hardly utilized, especially on the social networks. But an alternative journalism cannot content itself with achieving its market share, with finance from governments and the private sector, while the corporate media survives intact and journalists and ordinary people live in the analogic world that FdE says no longer exists.
Filed under: Brazil