The battle over journalists’ qualifications in Brazil heats up

The International Federation of Journalists supports the Brazilian National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) in their efforts to restore a requirement of a journalism college degree for anyone wishing to be a journalist.

And what a misguided position that is.

The campaign started up in 2009 when the Brazilian supreme court ruled that the requirement, which was imposed by the dictatorship, restricted free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.

The FENAJ argues that only properly trained journalists — with the proper degrees — can ensure fair and objective reporting.

“Journalists have to be truthful, impartial and accountable for their reporting,” said Elisabeth Costa, IFJ General Secretary and former President of FENAJ. “The public look to professional journalists for credible and objective information. We would fail them if we deny training to journalists.”

No one can dispute the need for training for journalists nor for the need to ensure journalists remain impartial and accountable for their reporting. But allowing a government to determine who can be a journalists gives the government way too much power over the news media.

A couple of quick points:

  1. No degree from any establishment of higher education guarantees skills, honesty, integrity or objectivity. (We have a Brazilian cook with all the proper certificates from university but all she can only prepare one or two dishes and is seems incapable of thinking through a recipe. But she has passed all the courses and has a degree. Do you really think this is the exception?)
  2. If the government can determine who can be a journalist, then it can also silence voices in the media that raise questions about government policy.

The more the government gets involved in reporting the news the more it can control the agenda and silence its critics. There is nothing to stop a local, state or national government official to have a journalist’s credentials revoked. Other journalists who want to keep their jobs learn the lesson quickly and stop pursuing stories that could cost them their jobs.

Brazilians should have learned from the days of the dictatorship that government control of the news is a bad thing for democracy. Most of the journalists understand that. And that is why I am surprised that their organization supports a means for government control of journalism.

If the concern is that a reporter is being biased and plays loose with the facts, then that reporter needs to be taken to task and fired. Pretty soon no one will hire that person into a media organization again. (When was the last time you saw a Jason Blair or Janet Cooke byline?)

As far as independent bloggers go, they are journalists just as much as the top reporter at the New York Times is. They share  the same constitutional protections. There is not one constitution for paid journalists at a major metropolitan newspaper and another for a blogger.

And before you say that the previous comments are U.S.-centric, remember that the Brazilian supreme court ruled the restriction on who can be a journalist can be seen as a violation of freedom of expression. The highest Brazilian legal authorities said the law imposed on the people by the dictators was in violation of a basic right of the Brazilian people.

Unlike the IFJ and FENAJ I don’t see how limiting expression and giving the government the power to control who can be a journalist helps protect and preserve democracy.

Look, maybe it all comes down to the FENAJ wants to limit the number of journalists available in the market. If that is so, then they are not really in the business of protecting journalists’ rights and democracy. They are then just proposing a restrictive labor law.

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Filed under Press Freedom, South America

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