Should journalists be credentialed?

There is rather a dearth of literature that delves on the necessity of license or other means of credentialing journalists in the practice of such profession. This may mean that the present state of tri-media does not call for a sea change as to require reporters, editors, columnists, writers, commentators, or photographers to first secure their licenses before they go into media practice. In the first place, the Professional Regulation Commission has not yet contemplated on a requisite licensure examinations for otherwise professional journalists, be them in – print, radio, tv, or web.

Nonetheless, we must have heard of the Society of Professional Journalists, established in 1909, which is said to be the oldest organizations representing journalists in the US. Aside from its adherence to the First Amendment on guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press, more importantly, it encourages high standards and ethical behavior in journalist practice while promoting diversity in the field. In other words, this mission is the same commitment from its 300 chapters across the United States. Its Code of Ethics in fact aims to ensure that journalists perform their work in adherence to high standards of behavior and decision making.

Corollarily, Filipino journalists do have so-called Code of Journalist Ethics as well as various press clubs or organizations intended to police their ranks and set certain ethical and professional standards in the practice of the journalist profession. Thus we hear of the Philippine Press Institute, the National Press Club and other media organizations as a kind of integration in the field or in the industry. Newspapers do in fact accredit themselves like other media organizations with the agency or department where they cover news. This amply provide regime of self-regulation as well as positive linkage between this Fourth Estate and government itself.

There is, however, a vicious situation that has always been the concern of media practitioners themselves. It appears that among their ranks, be it in print, tv, radio, or web, there are those who succumb to selling news or views for cash. These are called those engaged in AC/DC – attack and collect, defend and collect – meaning to say that in their midst, they have these so-called ‘envelopmental’ journalists or those who accept fat envelopes in exchange of patronizing news coverage. It is not too uncommon that resident reporters of not few newspapers do write press releases in exchange of something like P3k to P5k for a piece of space.

Perhaps, this is one of the other concerns that proponents of licensing professional journalists would want to address. Those who adhere to this school of thought think that there should be administered a licensure examination similar to other such licensure examinations for other professions. This might mean in the first place that the examinee ought to be one who graduated his undergraduate course in the field of journalism itself. The end of these efforts is clearly toward professionalizing all media practitioners as they go through the exercise of their profession.

The whole problem with too much licensing is, on the other hand, the fact that licensing fees may prove too prohibitive for professional journalists. And there is contemporary view that the journalists working in various media outfits probably don’t have to be required to pay license fees since the very business entities they are working with are already paying their appropriate business or income taxes with the government. And journalists are of course, employees of media organizations. If media organizations have themselves been already taxed, a constitutional question may have to be raised whether or not – every personnel still have to be required individual licenses.

It is a matter of traditional commitment that newspapers will always want to appear as independent but balance in its presentation of news or views. It is a universal practice as well that they commit themselves to allowing individuals or groups otherwise badly criticized to be heard by way of replies. If the newspaper would not want to print their replies, another newspaper can always accommodate its publication to serve the ends of fairness, truth, and equality. And this is part of the contemporary mood when news desks or editors do in fact welcome letters for publication even as they may refer to another newspaper. In short, there is always an open mechanism for a much needed exercise of right of reply or so-called fairness doctrine against personal attack.

Journalists do make grammatical errors or those being interviewed themselves such verbal gaffes. At the more extreme, journalists sometimes tend to misinterpret what must have been said or even meant by the person he interviewed on a given topic and just when these must see the light of print, it may, wittingly or unwittingly, cast the person in some awfully negative or embarrassing light. Maybe, there are those who say that this could have been prevented were professional journalists of the kind that have passed a licensure examination and acquired their licenses based on set criteria and qualification standards. Maybe, this is the good intention of any proposal to require licensing of professional journalists or of a credentialing requirement to come up with presumably more responsible journalists.

If this is the best way to improve the present crop of journalists, well, who must object if this be for the greater good of the greatest number of media practitioners. Of course, a lot of other factors will come into play before this proposal can operate at ground level. In the meantime, it is nothing but a utopia.