CPJ opposes bill regulating journalists

New York, August 20, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly opposes a bill to regulate journalists in Brazil, a measure Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sent to Congress this month.

“This government-sponsored proposal severely restricts the right to freedom of expression,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Journalism must not be guided by government-imposed regulations that could be used to silence criticism and shield the powerful from scrutiny.”

The legislation comes after a series of reports in the Brazilian press detailing alleged government corruption. The government claimed the bill is aimed at improving journalism.

The bill establishes federal and regional “journalism councils” made up of journalists and with powers to “guide, discipline, and supervise the practice of the profession of journalist and journalistic activity, to ensure the adherence to the profession’s ethical and disciplinary principles throughout the national territory, as well as to protect the right to free and plural information and to improve journalism.”

Under the bill, every journalist must register with the regional council where he or she resides. Disciplinary infractions would include warnings, fines, censure, suspension for up to 30 days, and revocation of registration.

The bill was originally drafted by the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ)—a journalists’ trade union—and was revised by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, which sent it to the president on May 27, 2004. According to the government’s official daily, Diário Oficial da União, Lula sent the bill to Congress on August 4, 2004.

In a letter to Lula explaining the bill’s purpose, Ricardo Berzoini, Minister of Labor and Employment, claimed that the measure would close a loophole in Brazilian law that allowed journalism to go unregulated. Berzoini said journalism councils would follow the model of existing councils in charge of professions such as accounting and medicine.

Berzoini said that Decree-Law No. 972, which was issued under a military dictatorship in 1969, requires registration with the Ministry of Labor and Employment to practice journalism. But he contended that his ministry’s role in regulating the profession was limited to verifying the existence of registrations. “Thus, currently, there is no institution with legal competence to regulate, supervise, and punish journalists’ inappropriate conducts,” Berzoini wrote.