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Brazil's impoverished Northeast region, where radio is the most popular news medium, has become known as one of the most dangerous areas for journalists in the Americas, with five journalists killed since 2000, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

One of the reasons behind the alarming death toll is the proliferation of politically owned or controlled radio stations that have fostered a partisan, attack-oriented brand of commentary on the airwaves.

CPJ investigated the growth of this radio sector during a September 2006 fact-finding mission to the region. It found that throughout the Northeast interior, "radio commentators are routinely involved in politics, campaigning for allies with ardor, attacking foes with a vengeance, and using the airwaves as a springboard for their own political aspirations."

Many of these so-called journalists are self-taught. Very few are considered independent. Accusations of extramarital affairs and criminal wrongdoing are hurled without restraint or attention to fact.

"Journalism in the interior is basically done by radio hosts," says Nonato Lima, a journalism professor at Ceará Federal University. "The radio host produces, writes, investigates, does everything."

New hosts typically obtain a journalism certificate after taking a four-month course that includes a month of classes and three months of internship.

"Their journalism is based on opinion, very partisan and political," Lima says. Radio hosts typically seek alliances with politicians who provide them with income and protection.

However unprofessional and politically biased these commentators may be, they have become very popular with the poor, giving voice to their everyday concerns and directly intervening to provide assistance in the absence of government support, notes CPJ.

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