Should journalists need a diploma?

Brazil’s Supreme Court renewed a law that requires journalists to hold a university degree in journalism. A currently discussed Amendment to the Constitution could further restrict the country’s media writes Felipe Correa.

The case

In June 2009, Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned the law requiring a journalism degree for all practicing journalists. In its final decision, the Supreme Court stated that the law, which was passed in 1969 under the military regime and a different constitution, violated basic rights such as free speech and freedom of information. The Court made a specific reference to the Advisory Opinion in which the Inter-American Court ruled that requirements of this type are incompatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Brazil is a signatory.

The court’s decision was controversial: those opposed to it argued that it would deregulate journalists’ employment structure built over 40 years, meaning worse conditions, lower pay, less stable employment and poor quality journalists in newsrooms. Those who agreed with the decision claimed Brazil had evolved to a more democratic society. The controversy did not end there.

In August 2012, following intensive lobbying led by the National Federation of Journalists, the Brazilian Senate voted not only to reinstate the requirement for a journalism diploma, but also to pass an amendment to the Constitution. The draft amendment  states that “non-journalists”, meaning someone “without an employment contract, who writes a technical, scientific or cultural work related to his/her specialisation, to be released with his/her name and qualifications”, would only be allowed to publish as a collaborator. The draft amendment passed in the Senate but has yet to be passed by Congress.

Author opinion

In many democratic countries, there are debates about whether journalists should need compulsory licenses, but forcing journalists to have a university degree, specifically in journalism, is rare. Brazil is back to the embarrassing situation of flouting international jurisprudence that regards restrictions to the right of a person to become a journalist as a violation of human rights.

Although I believe governments should not determine who can and who cannot be a journalist, high quality journalism that serves the public does not necessarily result from deregulated systems. Media monopolies and conglomerates can easily set a low standard in their newsrooms and still have a large market share.

While I think a diploma in journalism should not be a legal requirement, this does not mean that journalism degrees are unimportant. Perhaps a journalism degree should be just one path to becoming a journalist, not the only one. With the proliferation of bloggers and citizen journalists, the question of who has the “right” to be a journalist becomes more complicated, even for media companies, who receive and use user-generated content every day.

- Felipe Correa

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    It would be interesting to know whether other countries have similar regulations for journalists. In which countries journalists need a diploma or a license? Post here if you know any.

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