A new federal law regulating the work of journalists that was approved by the Brazilian senate earlier this month poses a "dangerous" threat to press freedom in Brazil, Reporters Without Borders said this Tuesday, July 25, urging President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to veto it when it is submitted for the executive’s approval on 27 July.
The law distinguishes between journalists who are officially recognized and those who are not.
"It would be strange if the federal government were to endorse this law now after abandoning a similar attempt to regulate journalism which it presented to parliament two years ago," the press freedom organization said.
"These attempts to legislate about the work of journalists are liable to create an oppressive and dangerous division between ‘official’ or ‘recognized’ journalists and those who are ‘underground’ or ‘fringe’," Reporters Without Borders continued.
"By definition, a journalist is anyone who produces or processes news and information, not someone who is authorized to do so by virtue of a diploma or membership of a professional association."
The organization added: "It would also be a flagrant legal and political contradiction for President Lula to agree to this new law after signing the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedom in May."
The proposed law for the "promotion of the profession of journalist" was presented to parliament by chamber of deputies member Pastor Amarildo. It was approved by the senate and was debated by the chamber of deputies without being amended. It is now up to the president to endorse it or to veto it, either partially or in its entirety.
It incorporates some of the provisions of the abortive bill presented by the government two years ago. Under one of the provisions, the number of categories of journalistic and communications work that would require a degree in journalism is increased from 12 to 23.
Among those who would now need to have a degree are photographers, cameramen, graphics specialists, illustrators, archivists, journalism teachers and sports commentators. The National Council of Archives has pointed out that the profession of archivist is regulated in a 1978 law.
The press and journalists are split over the law. The National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) and several journalists’ unions are in favor, but the National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) and many leading newspapers are very critical.
The former think it will provide more protection for journalists, who for the most part are poorly paid and have few guarantees. The latter fear it could give the government a degree of political control over the media.
The controversy also centers on another aspect of the law, the creation of a regulatory body on the lines of the Federal Council of Journalism (CFJ), which under the previous bill had the job of "orientating, disciplining and controlling" the profession, issuing press cards and imposing administrative sanctions. It was the outcry about this aspect that forced the government to withdraw the earlier bill, and it has been toned down in the new law.
The Declaration of Chapultepec that President Lula signed on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May is based on a broad definition of freedom of information and expression, and has been signed by virtually all of the western hemisphere’s presidents since it was adopted by the Inter-American Press Association on 11 March 1994.
It reaffirms that the right to inform and be informed "is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people." It also insists (in point 8) that it should not be obligatory for journalists to join guilds or professional associations.
Reporters Without Frontiers – www.rsf.org