Dictatorship-Era Law Regulating Journalists in Brazil to Be Challenged

Reporters Without Borders is to challenge a ruling by Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ), an appellate court, that journalists must possess a college degree in communications to be allowed to do their job, which it pronounced to be in line with the Constitution.

"A journalist is someone who handles or produces news and information," the worldwide press freedom organization said. "Even if we understand professional organizations calling for a higher level of education, it seems to us to run contrary to press freedom and even to the right to inform people in general, to systematically demand that journalists should be university-educated".

"Journalistic competence does not a priori depend on entitlement but on experience in the job. Moreover, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself signed the Chapultepec Declaration on 3 May 2006 on freedom of expression and informationm which declared optional the possession of a degree and affiliation to a professional body. This was a complete break with the law-decrees dating back to the military dictatorship, which the STJ invoked to justify its decision," said Reporters Without Borders.

Judges in the first section of the STJ, one of the two highest federal jurisdictions in the country, decreed on November 8 that obligatory possession of a university degree in communications to be able to work as a journalist was in line with the Constitution.

The ruling came at the end of a lengthy legal case started last year by José Eduardo Marques, doctor and consultant on a health communications program in Bauru, São Paulo state.

The doctor had obtained the status of precarious journalist (registro precário) in the framework of public civil aid. A labor ministry’s ruling abolished this status, since it did not require an ad hoc degree in social communications.

Marques appealed, saying that the ministerial decision was contrary to Article 5 – XIII of the Constitution, which allows the exercise of any work, responsibility or profession as long as it meets legal requirements. The doctor won his case in a lower court, but it was overturned by São Paulo’s regional federal tribunal (TRF) in October 2005.

Eduardo Marques’s last appeal before the STJ then failed. In the grounds for its decision, the court relied on law-decree 972, regulating the profession of journalist, adopted under the military dictatorship in 1969.

It also drew his attention to law-decree 83.284 of 1979, instituting the status of "contributor". The decision was hailed by journalists’ associations.

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