We are all NINJAS! (english)

Interview with: 
Dríade Priscila Faria Aguiar

Dríade Priscila Faria Aguiar, founding member of the media collective Mídia NINJA, reports on the wave of social protests in Brazil and their approach to alternative journalism.

Mídia NINJA is called a media phenomenon. In the wake of the broad wave of protests against the 2014 FIFA World Cup, social ills and corruption starting in June 2013 in Brazil, the media collective raised the attention and support of thousands of people. Officially founded in April 2013, their history started seven years ago. Fifty communicators, journalists and activists have built a network that now connects more than five hundred journalists. Today Mídia Ninja is present in 200 cities across Brazil.

Mídia NINJA started out of the dissatisfaction with mainstream media: In the absence of any media regulative laws, a few family enterprises have a monopoly on media, from TV to newspaper and radio. As a result, mainstream media report negatively on several big demonstrations and strikes.

NINJA stands for "Independent Narratives, Journalism and Action" in Portuguese. It is not the only, but maybe the most, prominent network engaged with free media and media activism in Brazil. Their reports are mainly made with cell phones and are then spread through social networks. The audience response is very strong: They surpass the number of interactions larger Brazilian media outlets receive through their pages.

migrazine.at: How come the wave of social protests starting in 2013 became the biggest in the last twenty years?

Dríade Priscila Faria Aguiar: It is difficult to trace their beginning. What was crucial, I suppose, is the twelve-year leadership of a popular, left-wing government, that changed things in a very profound way: Education and payments have been improved, women were supported to stay in school, Brazilians were getting more self-esteem, culture got a stronger hold on our lives. As well, social movements have been empowered. These deep changes brought us Brazilians to a point where we are open to a lot of issues about our rights.

Social movements, strikes and demonstrations are not new; we have been on the streets for a long time already. It is very important for us that people understand that protests have been happening for a long time. Last year they just went on another level.
It started with public transportation in São Paulo. After the brutal police repression at the first demonstration, more and more people came to the street. In practical terms we were successful: The bus fare was lowered after the protest. After that the Confederation Cup started. Being in pre-World Cup feeling plus gaining international attention this brought us even closer to a point where everything should be debatable.

What is your present agenda?

After the protests surrounding the Confederation Cup a lot of other issues were coming up together: public transportation in other cities, abortion, LGBT rights, religious rights, money for education and housing problems. For example, the street movement of the homeless workers got thousands of people together, looking for better living conditions. In Rio, the street sweeper strike took place during the Carnival and put a light on the bad working conditions they suffer. But it was only a spotlight on things we've been fighting for quite a long time already. This was one of the most beautiful things of my life, looking at all those spots at the same time.

There were as well indigenous groups among the demonstrators: The government seems to have announced constitutional changes to cut short on the rights of indigenous people on protected areas.

This is actually a very old problem. A lot of indigenous land is not respected in Brazil, it has been taken over, people cut down the trees to build farms on it. Indigenous people are trying to get their land back right now. They have fewer rights than anybody else. The proposed constitutional amendment is something where you can pick up the problem, but the major thing is that indigenous groups are, constitutional amendment or not, not respected as people possessing the right to own land.
There are a lot of different cases: The government for example told indigenous people that they could take that part of land. And when they went there, they were refused to get it. There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of admissions and backdowns.

One other area of protests was the handling of favelas close to the infrastructural projects, which have been carried out for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It has been reported that only in Rio hundreds of favelas had to move. Where did they move to, and what happens after the World Cup?

There are very severe human rights violations happening – and this is not just because of the World Cup. Thousands of people from the favelas are confronted with evictions: They are put wherever, somewhere where they don't bother anybody. They are not treated as persons at all. The government promised them houses, but this is not a federal thing, this is from the state government, a right-wing government, especially in Rio. So lots of people are ending up with hardly any compensation and no other place offered.

In April this year, there were protests in the favela Pavão Pavãozinho in Rio, directed at the police, the Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP). The UPP was accused of murdering a 26-year-old man. What is the UPP and how do you perceive them?

The UPP is a police organization placed in all the favelas in Rio since 2008. They were put there in order to take the drug traffic down, to "pacify" them, to make the favela more liveable. But "pacification" actually means more violence than there used to be in the drug traffic. The police does a very bad job in protecting the people, and the traffic hasn't become any better.

What was the role of Mídia NINJA in this movement?

NINJA comes from a long experience of media activism in Brazil. We are gathering information from all over Brazil, also from small towns, with the focus of content being on social and political relevance. Since 2011 NINJA has become more active in São Paulo. In that city we had a strong relationship with a lot of important opinion formers. Together we started to cover actions as well as starting our own ones: For example, the "Churrasco de Gente Diferenciada” (Different People's Barbecue) addressed, that poor and working people weren't welcome in an open party region of the city. From there we kept moving.

With other movements we organized a big action, known as "Existe Amor em SP" (There's Love in São Paulo). It claimed that the public spaces and the entire city itself belong to the people; and they should use it, occupy it. Having people feeling like they were part of the city was one the most important things for how they reacted to all the violence that the police used against people during the demonstrations. Violence has happened in the city for the past thirty years, but something changed on June 13th: The city didn't take it anymore and the fight for the bus fare exploded in a struggle for rights. By that time NINJA had emerged as a strong and important group that provided different narratives that came from the streets.

How did you perceive the protests during the World Cup? In the Austrian media there was hardly any representation of demonstrations or strikes.

The relationship with the protests and the World Cup started at least a year before the event in Brazil. But the anti-World Cup demonstrations lost their strength as the event was approaching. The movements that opposed the championship did not understand how powerful this event could be. They had a hard time hacking it and using all the visibility we had to fight for the issues.

President Dilma Rousseff announced the biggest reform package since 1988. The congress is planning new laws, for example, against corruption. What do you think about these changes?

I think, that this is actually a very tricky thing. This is nothing to be judged from one day to the next, this is to be followed for a long time. I think, a lot of things will change during the presidential run, unless all the government parties will hold hands and decide to have all the same decisions. The elections will be in the beginning of October. After that we have to keep an eye on how things evolve.

Under the name of Mídia NINJA, hundreds of reporters work in different cities. Is there exchange happening? How is the collective held together?

We have a lot of meetings, a lot of exchanges. At the same time we are very open about people joining us: We want to empower users to become the new mediators. You can actually start NINJA Austria tomorrow and not say anything to us. We would actually get in touch with you then and say: Hey, we are NINJA Brazil, let's talk about this! The idea is that everybody can be a NINJA. This is actually a slogan: we are all NINJAs. If you are sharing something on your page, you are a NINJA, if you help us make dinner, if you can drive the car for us, you are a NINJA as well. Or you can make your own live broadcasts, interviews, etc. If you want to be part of it, we are very open to discussing our principles.

What are these basic principles you are sharing? How would you describe your approach to journalism?

One basic rule is that we don't give credits for pictures, live screens or tweets. All credits are by NINJA. We believe in the concept of common credit. This is something to be discussed a lot with the young people. Secondly, our approach is based on neglecting objectivity. There is no way to report something without your own background, your own ideas, your own opinion. We are very clear from where we come from, and are not afraid to show it. Thirdly, which is not a principle, but more a characteristic, we chose to act on social media, such as Twitter or Facebook to draw the attention on points we find important and as well to change the logic by coming from mass media to the mass of media. We believe, that this is part of a bigger, global transformation and the democratization of the media.

But our engagement with social media is one reason why we have been doubted a lot with the question: Are we serious journalists? This was very common, conflictive and a strong point for us. At the same time, mainstream media started to face the fact that they could not ignore us: They started to call us the "new journalism".

What formats do the reports have? Is there – when choosing long live broadcasts – a preference for testimony instead of an analytical approach?

Testimony is a very important thing. Our way of reporting should make you feel as you were there in another perspective: real time journalism. It is very simple: You take your cell phone and do a live stream. This is, I believe, why we got a lot of attention during the protests: No helicopter shots from above, we are there from the beginning till the end, you can feel the heat and feel the bomb coming. NINJAs don't appear on live streaming but they show you what is happening.
"Analytical" is, generally speaking, the approach of reaming behind the camera, telling what is happening and explaining the dynamics and point of views from people on the streets. But there are also other sorts of formats, more intimate approaches such as interviews.

Have you been confronted with legal issues?

Well, Brazil has had no laws for communication, so we have been arrested for a lot of crimes on the internet. In the meantime, we have been successfully collectively fighting for civil rights: The law "Marco Civil da Internet" was adopted in January, guaranteeing fundamental rights in the Internet.

How is the current media situation in Brazil?

NINJA and other media initiatives can't be ignored anymore. I think, we brought mainstream media to a point where they are realizing that they are getting old in their tactics. They see that it works, so there has also been a certain adaptation in their political positions.


Interview: Paula Pfoser