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Media

Citizen journalists take on Brazil's media

The Ninja media group want independent journalism and a revolution of Brazil's media coverage. During the country's recent unrest, the citizen journalists were hailed as an alternative to major media outlets.

When hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in June to protest about government spending and education, observers noted it wasn't just the established media reporting on the events. Just like during protests on Egypt's Tahrir Square it was also the protesters themselves who were filming and writing.

While the big TV broadcasters kept their distance, reporting from the city's rooftops, it was the members of the Ninja media group who stood right next to the demonstrators and broadcasted live. All they needed were a couple of mobile phones, internet access and a Facebook page which got a lot of hits during the protests.

"We had gotten so famous, because people were expecting media coverage that got up close with the people," said Bruno Torturra, journalist and head of the Ninja team which was founded in 2012. "The traditional media had to grasp first what was going on in the streets and in social networks - we have been there all the time and broadcast live. There was such a high demand for independent reporting."

The Ninja name is actually an acronym which stems from the full name of the organization in Portuguese. In English, the full name translates to independent reports, journalism and action.

Beating media monopolies

One of Ninja's goals is to provide information to people, but they are able to participate as media agents as well. "We want to democratize the world of news and inform people in a better way. You have to reconsider journalism and renew it," Torturra said referring to Brazil's gigantic media companies that are run by just a handful of people. 

Brazilians hold a demonstration with a banner that reads, My party is my country (photo: REUTERS/Junior Lago)

Ninja reports straight from demonstration on the streets and says it broadcasts live

Ten powerful families own Brazil's most important broadcasting corporations and print media via their companies. Many politicians control important mass media as well. The old press law passed in times of military dictatorship has been abolished in 2009, but an amended version of the law is still being quarrelled over. For now, electoral laws and other regulations make it possible to interfere with journalists' reporting. Journalist and sociologist Venicio de Lima says his country is "a long way behind" in that sense.  

The organization Reporters Without Borders published its press freedom index in January of this year, ranking Brazil 108th out of 179. This was mainly due to violent attacks on journalists, but also because concentration of media ownership and political influence prevent independent journalism, the organization said.

Alternate reporting

The Ninja journalists are already causing changes in the Brazilian media landscape, says journalist and media professor, Sylvia Debossan Moretzsohn. "They fill a hole, especially because they rediscover the art of the street feature. It's a form to document reality," she told DW.

"They also address aspects that are not part of the traditional media's coverage or are only covered to a minimal extent, because the traditional media are held hostage by official sources and press offices."

Demonstrators run from police during clashes (photo: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

Protests heated about because of government spending on the World Cup

However, sociologist Venecio de Lima believes Ninja's reach has been exaggerated. "An estimate by the members of the group says they had had the attention of hundreds of thousands of people at the height of the protests." But Lima says he doesn't know how these calculations were done. This number also has to be put into context in Brazil, a country with a population of 193 million, he argues.

Moretzsohn says it's important that groups like Ninja find a way to take a more distanced approach to reporting. "It is difficult if they are the protagonists of their own stories. They need to edit their reports in order to enable people to understand."

Ninja's head Torturra says the group is doing all it can in that regard. Soon they also plan on launching their own stand-alone website. So far they have been presenting their stories mainly on social network platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.

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