Journalist-led anti-corruption project is Global Voices’ first Brazilian grantee

The international citizen media network Global Voices has chosen Friends of Januária (Asajan), based in the small city of the same name, as one its newest “Rising Voices” grantees for its work against corruption.

Januária is a city of 65,000, far from any major urban centers, and has a recent history of corruption and mismanagement by the local government. It has had seven mayor over the last seven years, but it was citizens – not the traditional press – which led the fight against corruption.

Inspired by a similar project in São Paulo state and motivated by problems in the local government, journalist Fábio Oliva and a group of media workers founded Asajan in 2004. Global Voices chose the organization for its work in inspiring the citizenry into action: “Through investigative journalism work and public awareness campaigns, Asajan has been championing transparency and accountability for Januária's local government.”

In an interview with the Journalism in the Americas, Oliva explained the origins of the project: “The carelessness of public powers in Januária had reached an alarming high. Something needed to be done, but some of the population was frightened and the rest used to it, so nothing was done about it.”

Oliva believes that “old” Januária is now consigned to the past. “The people had never protested in the streets and now this happens. This was a big change, the engagement of the community,” he said.

The result of their work has been the constant mayoral turnover. “Just in 2004, when the organization began to act, Januária had four different mayors,” Oliva recounted. Since then, three more have held the position. In the majority of cases, the officials were unable to finish their terms due to corruption allegations, as in the so-called Leech Scandal.

Asajan works with federal prosecutors, courts, and police to keep the local government in line. However, Oliva argues such work must be accompanied with civil society vigilance: “There would not be a fight against corruption in Brazil is it were only done by official institutions, as they cannot be present in every place, in every city, as citizens are.”

With the support of Global Voices, the organizations places to involve the city’s young people, by offering classes on using citizen media tools to improve civic participation. “We still suffer from a terrible evil in Januária. We manage to throw out one mayor and a worse one takes his place. And this is only going to change is today’s youth begin to regard politics as something that isn’t bad,” Oliva said. This project will be lead by journalists Amanda Rossi and Jamila Venturini, directors of a documentary on Asajan.

To learn more about the four other new Rising Voices grantees, see the Global Voices announcement.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.