Do you need a licence to be a journalist?

In Portugal you do. A Portuguese journalist has written with the following information as a prelude to a question:

“In Portugal there is a comission that grants journalistic licences of all sorts: for freelancers, collaborators, full time journalists. This licence puts its owner under a special condition before the law and finance.

“To get one of those licences I need my employer to declare I’m working for them; then I need two licensed journalists to sign a term of responsibility on my behalf; I need also a supervisor inside the company I’m working at to follow my work during a training period; this training period is variable, and the minimum is one year of “evaluation” for those who – like me – have a degree in Journalism.”

So here’s the question:

  • In which countries does a journalist need a licence?
  • Who and how grants it?
  • Is it really needed?
  • And why?

I would love to know your own experiences.

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31 thoughts on “Do you need a licence to be a journalist?

  1. Dr John Cokley

    This is not necessarily a bad thing — all the other “higher professions” have this in place. Other than the immediate “omigod” kickback about freedom of the press (and where is journalism really free? certainly not in the UK, Australia or the US) what are some rational reasons against this kind of quality assurance in formation and practice?

    Of course, this represents a big impediment to citizen journalism, of which I am a keen supporter (the CJ, not the impediment). So there are issues to discuss. Who will discuss?

    Reply
  2. JohnofScribbleSheet

    Sounds like closeted censorship….

    In Kenya, they tried to introduce a bill a few months back that said you had to have a degree and proper journalism qualification to practice, similar to Portugal. The bill was quashed due to protests.

    its funny, if this bill was passed in Kenya, the British government and others would have said this is a loss to free speech. I am sure they say nothing about Portugal’s rules.

    Reply
  3. Hamid Bousselham

    In Algeria you don’t need a licence to be a journalist.
    I didn’t need any” diplome ” to be one of them.
    J’ai été nommé directeur de la rédaction de l’hebdomadaire satirique ” El Manchar ” , eu égard à mes compétences.
    J’ai également été nommé éditorialiste par le directeur de la publication ” L’Expression ” parce qu’il appréciait mes écrits.

    Cordialement
    hamid

    Reply
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  5. Alan Rawlinson

    A licence? What would it entitle its holders to? Job security? I think not. There are no privileges for UK journalists in law and those that do exist are a result of custom and practice or are offered or negotiated. It is true that a press card often helps, but now even the NUJ recognises blogging as journalism (http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/530749.php) so a press card isn’t going to protect old (or young) fogeys from the wave of new media journalists that will surely swamp them.

    And who decides who is or isn’t a journalist? Surely that’s the job of the reader/viewer/listener/user…

    Reply
  6. Claire

    In France, although it is not compulsory, you had better have the Carte de Press. It’s a serious and lenghty process, you have to prove that journalism is your main source of income and that you work for certified media (not advertising, or political or advertising publications). You have to renew it every year. It is compulsory to be allowed in crime scene, senate, parliament, and to travel under a journalist visa.

    Reply
  7. simone ribeiro

    In Brazil we have a kind of liucence called MTB that is taken when you have a Journalism degree. I don’t think it works like in Portugal.

    In my opinion MTB is necessary here because it helps to avoid people without degree getting the job of people that studied (at least 4 years) to become a Journalist.

    Unfortunatelly, this country has a demand of people working as Journalist without have a degree on it, what is not fair. Journalism is a profession like any other one that you need to have skills and training.

    An example, imagine if in some areas like Medicine or Law would not be necessary a licence to work? It would mean that anyone could decide to be doctors and laywers?

    Reply
  8. nelsonjmsoares

    The reality in Portugal is not such obscure as it is described. There is a lot of journalists working in big media outlets that doesn’t have this kind of licence,and there are a lot more that, having this licence, don’t have any journalism degree. So the negative image that is being pointed out here has to be interpreted in a much more flexible terms. There is also a discussion going on about the journalists comission,and the possibility to create another institution to regulate our professional activity. And in my opinion that could represent an important advance to face some challenges
    in the future, related with citizen and participatory journalism.

    Reply
  9. Liz Bridgen

    This is very timely as I’m covering the professionalism debate with my students at the moment!

    I worked in Iceland for a number of years where you don’t need any sort of licence to be a journalist. However, in order to engage in society in any sort of way and therefore practise as a journalist (e.g. get a mobile phone contract or buy a phone, rent an apartment, get internet connection, even order a pizza for delivery) you need a kennitala – like an indentity number, but necessary for anyone staying in the country more than a few months. Without one you can’t particpate in society, and to work – and publish – as a journalist (or even a blogger) would be virtually impossible. So while journalism may appear unregulated, such a system does serve to protects the occupation from outsiders (of course, so does the use of the Icelandic language – although there are an increasing number of English (and Polish and Thai)-language news sources. These are not all written by native speakers of the language which can make them very amusing to read. I’d never come across the phrase “brigands” in a news report until I read http://www.icelandreview.com. Anyway, I digress).

    I can still recite my kennitala to this day “nul-sex-nul-fjögur-sex- sjö-tvö ….

    Reply
  10. Jim Humphries

    A licence is not in the UK or Ireland – not sure about the rest of Europe although I would doubt it if any democratic country ‘licensed’ journalists. The International Federation of Journalists would have the answer to that and a list of affiliated unions in about 120 countries. It is advisable for all aspirant or working journalists to join their national journalists’ union for solidarity, mutual benefit, protection and, in many country’s, to gain fast-track accreditation for various local government and state/national parliaments, courts, conferences etc. The Portugues journalists’ trade union is
    Sindicato de Jornalistas Rua dos Duques de Bragança, 7E -1249-059 LISBON (email sinjor@mail.telepac.pt)
    Hope this helps
    Posted by Jim Humphries
    Secretary, London Central Branch, National Union of Journalists.

    Reply
  11. Jim Humphries

    A licence is NOT NEEDED in the UK or Ireland – not sure about the rest of Europe although I would doubt it if any democratic country ‘licensed’ journalists as such although some insist on journalists registering for to national press cards – not quite the same thing. The International Federation of Journalists would have the answer to that and a list of affiliated unions in about 120 countries. It is advisable for all aspirant or working journalists to join their national journalists’ union for solidarity, mutual benefit, protection and, in many country’s, to gain fast-track accreditation for various local government and state/national parliaments, courts, conferences etc. The Portugues journalists’ trade union is
    Sindicato de Jornalistas Rua dos Duques de Bragança, 7E -1249-059 LISBON (email sinjor@mail.telepac.pt)
    Hope this helps
    Posted by Jim Humphries
    Secretary, London Central Branch,
    National Union of Journalists.

    Reply
  12. Delores Williams

    We don’t need a license in the US, but “professional” journalists almost always have to be a member of a press club, be an employee of a “authentic” newspaper or outlet. Internet is still looked down upon and not just for citizen journalist, but anyone who wants to be taken seriously.

    Reply
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  14. Joaquim Fidalgo

    Part 1: The issue of having or not having a license to be a journalist is not, at least for me, as simple as that. Remember, for example, how important was the law, approved in 1935 by the French Parliament, to grant the journalists a “Professional Card” and to allow people to distinguish them from all those others (mainly politicians) who wrote in the newspapers using them not for information’s sake, but for propaganda. It was an important step in the long-standing efforts of the journalists’ professional group to have their job publicly recognized and socially legitimized as a real profession – which means ‘privileges’, but also duties. (…)

    Reply
  15. Joaquim Fidalgo

    Part 2: A Canadian author uses to distinguish between two “founding myths” of journalism: one emphasizes only “freedom of expression”, which is a fundamental and universal right and, therefore, must allow anyone to be a journalist (and a license is, of course, out of question); another emphasizes “people’s right to information”, which is also a fundamental right, but which requires very competent and responsible professionals in order to be properly fullfilled (and some requirements to work as a professional journalist – both technical and ethical – would, in this case, be advisable).

    Reply
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  17. Ally

    In Thailand, im not so sure but i dont think the liecense is needed as i used to be an intern as a sport journalist and i did everything as others did but i didnt need license at all

    Reply
  18. Bob Calver

    John Cokley’s reference to the ‘higher professions’ is an interesting one and perhaps he is right that a licence need not necessarily be a bad thing. If we are to follow the example of medicince, the law and even teaching, however, some form of ‘general council’ would be required with the power to remove the licence to operate from any journalist who is judged to have broken the profession’s rules or codes of conduct.
    The fact remains, too, that if someone claiming to be a journalist – no matter what their qualifications or experience may be – come up with the right story an editor somewhere will pay for it.
    So what do we we think? Without a licence are we unregulated cowboys or the last Samurai?

    Reply
  19. Steve

    Of course you do not need a “License” to be a journalist. This would be Unconsititutional.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Reply
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  23. Manuel Ribeiro (@manuelribeiro)

    Well, this is can be one of these ongoing topics in discussion… I would like to add though that in Portugal “licensing” journalists does not affect in any means the freedom of speech. It actually protects and benefits journalists during their roles. It provides journalists access to sources and major events (that demands a press card otherwise, without it, you can´t get in due to space limit or for safety reasons). All major events I´ve covered it was always requested a press ID and this happened in other countries besides Portugal to…

    Reply

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