One of the issues Brazilians have been questioning and debating is the media. On one hand, the citizen journalism group Mídia Ninja has come under fire for a variety of reasons, many stemming from its umbrella group Fora do Eixo. In recent weeks, there's been a veritable storm on social media and lots of chatter about the group, its funding, and how Fora do Eixo works. Representatives of Mídia Ninja have gone on TV and spoken to the mainstream media to defend their case. Claire Rigby has an excellent breakdown of what's been happening to that end.
On the other hand, the protests brought out a surge of anti-Globo sentiment. Globo is one of the world's largest media conglomerates, controlling the country's largest TV network, newspapers, radio stations, and magazines, not to mention a publishing house, music label, and film production company, among other things. It's also known for having manipulated coverage in the past. The initial negative coverage of the protests in the mainstream media likely helped fuel this anti-Globo anger, but the overall feeling was one of being fed up with the network.
So what this particular issue boils down to is that Brazilians are debating the quality of journalism, which is a valid and worthy question in any democracy.
Some of the questions that the Mídia Ninja and Globo furor have raised include the following:
- Is it acceptable for a media outlet to have a bias, or to have some sort of agenda?
- Should reporters have training or education, or at least the adequate skills to report stories?
Mídia Ninja has come under fire for using citizen journalists, some of whom are inexperienced--which became evident during an interview with the mayor of Rio. But that doesn't mean that other media outlets, even large ones, all have fully competent reporters, either.
This is also an important question given a controversy over whether reporters should have a degree in journalism in order to work. There's a law, passed in 1969, that requires journalists to have a college degree in journalism. But in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the dictatorship-era legislation was no longer valid. Now, Brazil's Congress is considering a constitutional amendment that would require all journalists working in their field to have a college degree in journalism. The Senate approved the measure last year; the Chamber of Deputies has yet to vote on it. When journalists register to become part of a local reporters' union, they are sometimes denied entry if they lack a journalism degree, or asked to prove with documentation that they're working in the field.
- Where does a media outlet's money com from?
Part of the hooplah about Mídia Ninja stemmed from allegations about Fora do Eixo, its umbrella organization that funds the group. Now, the group hopes to soon implement new ways to fund itself, ranging from donations to crowdfunding. In turn, Mídia Ninja has pointed out that the government is one of the major advertisers in mainstream print and online media.
Meanwhile, Brazilian news organizations are shedding jobs; recently, Editora Abril, one of the country's largest publishers, announced layoffs and said it would close a number of magazines.
- Should Globo be allowed to be the giant it has become?
This is one of the central questions Globo critics have long debated and resurged during the protests. Along with radio, print, and online media, Globo TV is a dominant force in Brazilian media and life in general. A 2010 survey found that around 70 percent of Brazilians say Globo is their favorite free TV channel, and over half of Brazilians reported spending two or more hours a day watching TV.
Those who oppose Globo's size are hoping to challenge its dominance with a new law. After receiving 50,000 signatures, an initiative was launched this month to introduce a bill in Congress called the Democratic Media Law. (Mídia Ninja covered the launch.) This would seek to prevent media monopolies and to make the process of media concessions more transparent. Those campaigning for the law aim to get over a million signatures and for Congress to consider it.
Arguably, one of the reasons Brazil's protests became a national phenomenon was because of both Mídia Ninja and Globo. People were angered by the police violence and repression captured on the ground, but it was Globo's "change of heart" from framing the protesters as vandals to legitimate demonstrators that helped shift public opinion.
- How important is fact-checking? Is it enough to capture the moment using things like photo and video and to simply cite sources?
Since Mídia Ninja has been doing a lot of real-time coverage, this can mean there's live reporting of things that people are saying or alleging, but may not be true, which is further fueled by social media. But frankly, fact-checking is an issue that affects all media outlets, including Globo.
- Should reporters be doing investigations? Or is it enough to just report from the scene of breaking news?
Mídia Ninja has largely been doing reporting from the scene, be it protests, "occupations" of cities halls, and other demonstrations, as opposed to more investigative work. However, they are doing some reporting, publishing some longer-form texts on their Facebook page on issues such as indigenous conflicts and corruption in transportation companies. They are still working on launching a website, which as one of their editors told me, will help them expand their work. On the other hand, it raises the question: are major media outlets doing their job in terms of investigative work? Is there more they could be doing, or other areas they should be focusing on?
The bottom line is that all of these questions are good ones, both in Brazil and other countries, too. And the truth is that mainstream media could learn from Mídia Ninja and vice versa. For example, a journalist from Folha de São Paulo covered a recent protest using Google Glass, as well as a drone above the crowd. Globo does have some great journalists, including ones that have sought to shed light on poor public services and police violence during the protests.Perhaps, the truth is that for media outlets to be successful, they need to find a happy medium between Mídia Ninja and Globo. It's become increasingly clear that mainstream media will need to be more creative with real-time coverage, as well as the use of new technology and multimedia. On the other hand, in order to maintain the momentum it's gained, Mídia Ninja may need to adapt traditional journalism methods, too.
Image: Mídia Ninja.