“Thou Shalt Not”: A Martian Anthropologists Reads the Revised FENAJ Code of Journalistic Ethics

Barbon of Porto Ferreira, rural São Paulo. If journalists without college degrees or a license to practice journalism are not real journalists, then the fact that the diploma-less Barbon was assassinated because of reporting he published does not count as the murder of a journalist. Or so the Brazilian national union for journalists continues to reason. Just makes you want to break out into a rousing chorus of “Solidarity Forever,” don’t it? See also Brazil: Who Is a Journalist? New Cases in Point.

[Thou shalt not] permit the exercise of the profession of journalism by persons not licensed to do so; … FENAJ Code of Ethics, 2007

[Blessed are those who] show solidarity to colleagues who suffer persecution or aggression in consequence of their professional activity; … — ibid.

When a rural São Paulo journalist was assassinated recently — his exposé on local elected officials involved in child prostitution led to the conviction of several of them, one of whom was reelected while doing time for child-fucking — the national journalists union, FENAJ, argued that it was none of its business because the man was technically speaking not a journalist.

Which just blew my mind, and made me realize that I was not in Kansas anymore, Toto. See also

FENAJ, the Brazilian national union for journalists, has ratified a new code of ethics, which seems to have some indebtedness to the code articulated by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists.

Which, I should disclose, is a pointed non-affiliation of mine.

It’s a group that feted Judy Miller of the New York Times as a heroine of the First Amendment, for one thing. Which is a position I strongly disagree with. And its code of ethics tends to trade off time-tested principles of epistemology for vague canards about “sensitivity” and “good taste.”

The Society of Business Editors and Writers puts out the most sensible ethical code I know of so far — research continues — and so they are the ones I pay dues to (except that at the moment I have let them lapse, I just realized.)

I am highly suspicious of the ASBPE — The American Society of Business Publication Editors — whose code of ethics I once evaluated for a publication I edited.

Editors do this all the time: “We are guided by the AP Stylebook with the following exceptions, caveats, or supplemental points …” The ASBPE, at that point, seemed to have been taking over by gabbling buzz-monkeys of the Mark “MediaShift” Glaser school:

Now that there is gabbling nonsense in the extreme. Why are my taxpayer dollars supporting this, I ask you?

But the folks at the ASPBE say they are upgrading and improving, so to be fair, I need to go and have a fresh look.

The point is that various unions and professional associations can compete for prestige in this area.

For example, as a professional (without a journalism-school degree, mind you; who needs it?) I prefer the National Writer’s Union to the Writer’s Guild. And for example, from the point of view of the consumer of information services, knowing what the stated editorial standards of PBS now are, I find it much more difficult to watch PBS news programming.

The PBS programming that is still worth watching tends to be the programming that continues to defy this wilfully nonsensical statement of sophomoric “Gnosticism for dummies”.

PBS recognizes that the producer of informational content deals neither in absolute truth nor in absolute objectivity. Information is by nature fragmentary; the honesty of a program, Web site, or other content can never be measured by a precise, scientifically verifiable formula. Therefore, content quality must depend, at bottom, on the producer’s professionalism, independence, honesty, integrity, sound judgment, common sense, open mindedness, and intention to inform, not to propagandize.PBS Editorial Standards

“What is truth?” said Pilate, washing his hands.

Simultaneously (1) celebrating honesty and commitment to accuracy and (2) asserting that there exists no minimal, concrete standard against which to measure that commitment is an astonishing feat of logic-chopping.

Because an utter lack of honesty is often easy to spot, I find, and requires no appeal to metaphysics.

Identifying conflicts of interest — who pays who? to do what? — is, for example, a pretty good crude sorting device when it comes to weeding out flagrant, gabbling lack of objectivity, impartiality, freedom from deliberate and calculated bias, or whatever you want to call it.

Because theology aside, the quest to maximize the printing of facts and minimize the printing of non-facts — within the realm of the humanly possible — is not the same as the metaphysical question of capital-T Truth.

At the moment, then, I am much more likely to want to read a business publication with a participation in SABEW than I am one with a participation in the ASPBE, for example.

I feel that ASPBE owes me some signs that it is making progress toward rejoining the reality-based community.

The same goes for public relations professionals who subscribe to the views of the Society for New Communciations Research. If the NMM signal-to-noise assessment algorithm sees that on your resumé, it assumes a much higher risk that you are trying to sell me noise as “signal 2.0.”

This is not a luxury that Brazilian journalists have, mind you.

If you do not belong to FENAJ, you cannot legally work as a journalist in Brazil.

Or so FENAJ continues to maintain.

Recent court rulings have suggested otherwise, but FENAJ continues to insist on this point. And its new ethics council claims the prerogative of drumming you out of the profession if you are found to have broken its code of ethics.

Coming soon to a Brazilian soap opera near you: The show trial of Diogo Mainardi before the FENAJ Professional Ethics Committee!

It promises to make the Roberto Jefferson prime-time soap opera look like an episode of that oil-painting show on PBS. You know the one. You turn it on instead of taking a sleeping pill.

The nine “thou shalt nots” of the new FENAJ code:

I – aceitar ou oferecer trabalho remunerado em desacordo com o piso salarial, a carga horária legal ou tabela fixada por sua entidade de classe, nem contribuir ativa ou passivamente para a precarização das condições de trabalho;

Thou shalt not accept or offer paid work outside the minimum salary, the legal work hours or the price table established by your union, or contribute actively or passively to the creation of precarious working conditions;

II — submeter-se a diretrizes contrárias à precisa apuração dos acontecimentos e à corretadivulgação da informação;

II — comply with instructions contrary to the accurate reporting of facts and the correct publication of information;

III – impedir a manifestação de opiniões divergentes ou o livre debate de idéias;

III — prevent the manifestation of dissenting opinions or the free debate of ideas;

IV – expor pessoas ameaçadas, exploradas ou sob risco de vida, sendo vedada a sua identificação, mesmo que parcial, pela voz, traços físicos, indicação de locais de trabalho ou residência, ou quaisquer outros sinais;

IV — expose persons who are threatened, exploited or in risk of their lives, it being prohibited to identify such persons, even partially, by the voice, physical features, indication of their place of work or residence, or any other clues to their identity;

I am more used to thinking of this proscription in much more general terms:

Thou shalt not identify anyone without their prior, informed consent;

Your responsibility is to identify yourself as a journalist, honestly, represent your interest in the source’s information and views, and do your best to make sure the source understands any potential risk inherent in being identified publicly.

On the other hand, there is the case of Edmilson “Bruno Surfistinha” Bruno of the federal police, who reportedly lied his way into an evidence storage area, after being taken off the case in question, in order to obtain photos that he then leaked to the press.

He told São Paulo reporters he could get sacked if caught, and asked them to print a false cover story.

The Folha de S. Paulo complied: That is, it disinformed its readers about the source of its information, knowing what it was printing was be false.

It defended this practice under the principle of “protecting the source.”

But the journalist owes the reader the maximum amount of information possible about the source of information, and has to provide a good reason for withholding it.

Not being able to get consent to print important information unless a source’s legitimate request for anonymity is good enough.

But the journalist then assumes responsibility for vouching for the source. It is his or her, and their employer’s credibility on the line.

And you do not want to be lending your credit card to kleptomaniacs.

Just ask Bill Keller of the the New York Times, who realized this with admirable clarity after the Jayson Blair and “aluminum tubes” affairs, articulating some very sensible principles and practical guidelines.

On the other hand, making the journalist responsible for deciding whether a source is at legitimate risk or not seems awfully high-handed.

The Folha decided that Bruno Surfistinha was at risk of political persecution, apparently.

But by the same token, Diogo Mainardi, who constantly screams that he is a victim of political persecution, might tell you, for example, that the president of Brazil has had cocaine-fueled orgy sex with former President Toledo of Peru.

Would you have to protect his anonymity simply because he made this claim to persecution?

Or would you have to await a ruling from the human rights tribunal of the OAS there in Costa Rica before deciding to grant anonymity and run the information on Lula’s sex life?

It seems like the wrong question to ask.

If Diogo Mainardi tells you this, and you discover it is not true — “if you mother says she loves you, get a second source before you run it” — you should not even bother talking to him.

He is pretty obviously not interested in helping you comply with “thou shalt not” No. II.

V – usar o jornalismo para incitar a violência, a intolerância, o arbítrio e o crime;

V — use journalism to incite to violence, intolerance, abuse of power and crime;

VI – realizar cobertura jornalística para o meio de comunicação em que trabalha sobre organizações públicas, privadas ou não-governamentais, da qual seja assessor, empregado, prestador de serviço ou proprietário, nem utilizar o referido veículo para defender os interesses dessas instituições ou de autoridades a elas relacionadas;

VI — Provide journalistic coverage for the news organization you work for of any public, private or non-governmental organizations of which you are an advisor, employer, service provider or owner, or used said news organization to defend the interests of these institutions or officials related to them;

VII – permitir o exercício da profissão por pessoas não-habilitadas;

VII- Permit the exercise of the profession by persons not licensed to do so;

VIII – assumir a responsabilidade por publicações, imagens e textos de cuja produção não tenha participado;

VIII — assume credit or responsiblity for publications, images and texts whose production you did not participate in;

IX – valer-se da condição de jornalista para obter vantagens pessoais.

IX — Make use of your status as a journalist to obtain personal advantages.

There are further “thou shalt nots” in Chapter 3, Article 11, “The Professional Responsibility of the Journalist.”

O jornalista não pode divulgar informações:

The journalist may not publish information:

I – visando o interesse pessoal ou buscando vantagem econômica;

With a view to personal interest or seeking economic advantage;

II – de caráter mórbido, sensacionalista ou contrário aos valores humanos, especialmente em cobertura de crimes e acidentes;

Of a morbid, sensationalistic character, or contrary to human values, especially in coverage of crimes and accidents;

III – obtidas de maneira inadequada, por exemplo, com o uso de identidades falsas, câmeras escondidas ou microfones ocultos, salvo em casos de incontestável interesse público e quando esgotadas todas as outras possibilidades de apuração;

Obtained in an inappropriate manner, for example, through the use of false identities, hidden cameras or microphones, except in cases of incontestable public interest after all other means of obtaining the information have been exhausted.

Chapter 3, Article 12 sets forth the Beatitudes of the new code.

Blessed are those journalists who

I – ressalvadas as especificidades da assessoria de imprensa, ouvir sempre, antes da divulgação dos fatos, o maior número de pessoas e instituições envolvidas em uma cobertura jornalística, principalmente aquelas que são objeto de acusações não suficientemente demonstradas ou verificadas;

With the specific exception of the public relations professional, always seeks, before publishing the facts, the largest possible number of persons and institutions involved in the subject of coverage, principally those who are the object of accusations not sufficiently demonstrated or verified;

This is the only acknowledgement I can find, from a cursory reading of the document that the work of public relations professionals — who engage in advocacy speech — and journalists who provide public information services differ in kind.

This I cannot help but find astonishing, from the Martian anthropologist’s point of view. See also

The vast lacuna in the FENAJ code on this point makes for a lot of conceptual incoherence, I think. On the revised guidelines for public relations professionals, for example, who are also represented by FENAJ, see also

II – buscar provas que fundamentem as informações de interesse público;

II — Seek evidence to provide a foundation to information of public interest;

III – tratar com respeito todas as pessoas mencionadas nas informações que divulgar;

III — treat with respect everyone mentioned in the articles you publish;

Thus, under those quaint (but charming) New York Times conventions, the Son of Sam killer becomes “Mr. Sam, Jr.”

IV – informar claramente à sociedade quando suas matérias tiverem caráter publicitário ou decorrerem de patrocínios ou promoções;

IV — Clearly inform the public when your articles are intended for publicity purposes or are the product of sponsorship or marketing promotions;

V – rejeitar alterações nas imagens captadas que deturpem a realidade, sempre informando ao público o eventual uso de recursos de fotomontagem, edição de imagem, reconstituição de áudio ou quaisquer outras manipulações;

V — reject alterations of photographic images that distort reality, always informing the public when you use photomontage or image editing techniques, reconstruction of audio, or any other technical manipulations;

What about computer simulations, I wonder?

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Simulated journalism: During its coverage of the TAM Airbus disaster at Congonhas airport in São Paulo, TV Globo puts a pilot in front of a (Sino-Paraguayan, no doubt) copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and reports the results.
Ecce TV Globo.

VI – promover a retificação das informações que se revelem falsas ou inexatas e defender o direito de resposta às pessoas ou organizações envolvidas ou mencionadas em matérias de sua autoria ou por cuja publicação foi o responsável;

VI — Promote the correction of reporting that turns out to be false or imprecise, and defend the right of response to persons or organizations that are implicated or mentioned in articles you author, or for which your publication was responsible;

VII – defender a soberania nacional em seus aspectos político, econômico, social e cultural;

VII — defend national sovereignty in all of its political, economic, social and cultural aspects;

VIII – preservar a língua e a cultura do Brasil, respeitando a diversidade e as identidades culturais;

Preserve the language and culture of Brazil, respecting diversity and cultural identities;

Does that mean FENAJ is going to crack down on Globo News and Record News for using the brand names “news” instead of notícias?

A law was actually passed a while back requiring technology developers and technical communicators to stop using foreign technical terms in favor of native ones.

It is, for example, to be called a teclado and not a keyboard (Mazzaropi would pronounce it kiBAAAHRDdjee).

It is common to hear this mocked as a somewhat absurd reform, but if you consider the case of the German firm, for example, that tried to enforce a worldwide copyright on the Portuguese term rapadura — a distinctive raw-sugar product of the Brazilian Northeast — it seems less so.

There really are people out there trying to take language out of the public domain. Google does not want you using “Google” as a verb — though I believe they finally agreed to lay off “to google” — on analogy with “to xerox.”

As why would they not, really? What if the popular verb for Internet search were “to yahoo,” for example? (As it had a chance of becoming, in the early days). Or you were accustomed to asking your secretary to go and “ricoh” the documents for you?

IX – manter relações de respeito e solidariedade no ambiente de trabalho;

IX — maintain relations of respect and solidarity in the workplace;

X – prestar solidariedade aos colegas que sofrem perseguição ou agressão em conseqüência de sua atividade profissional.

X — show solidarity to colleagues who suffer persecution or aggression in consequence of their professional activity;

See also

This is a very important point.

Where, first of all, is the professional solidarity for Barbon of Porto Ferreira? See

On the notion that even bad journalists deserve our solidarity — possibly even Mainardi, who, although he can be heard saying he would like to get into fights with journalists he disagrees with, does not deserve to be physically assaulted himself — consider the following:

Globo reporters are often the subject of aggression by people who are angry about Globo’s often viciously slanted reporting, for example. And make no mistake about it: A lot of reporting churned out by Globo is viciously slanted.

During the bust-up on the Av. Paulista on International Women’s Day, for example, Globo vehicles and equipment got smashed.

But Globo reporters are not the masters of their own noses, as many have fought to make clear.

The vicious slant is imposed from the top down.

And only 1 in 6 qualified journalists — registered with the Ministry of Labor, with a college degree — is able to find formal employment in the field.

So you can imagine the economic pressure that can be brought to bear.

Because São Paulo and Rio are terrible, terrible places to be unemployed.

The problem, some journalists here argue, is that what one local observer calls “the privatization of censorship” by the likes of Globo shares some responsibility for putting professionals at risk, both reputationally and physically.


There is a poignant and hair-raising moment in Caco Barcellos’ Rota 66 that illustrates this point rather clearly, I think.

Barcellos’ work on that book — undertaken as a private side project — was a tour de force of public-interest investigative reporting on a shoestring budget.

But his day job was working for TV Globo. A notorious purveyor of the worst sort of Lombrosian “exterminate the brutes” law-enforcement journalism there is. See

So that when he tries to attend the funeral of a victim of police violence, Barcellos nearly gets himself lynched by family and friends of the victim. Who know him only as a Globo talking head.

Or take the case of Jose Messias Xavier.

The TV Globo reporter in Rio was arrested for taking money from the caça-níqueis rackets — electronic gambling devices, a new area of business for the traditional jogo do bicho — to tip them off with information he gleaned from law-enforcement sources under cover of the reporter-source relationship.

Globo appears to have simply removed all references to the man and his work from its online archives.

He was summarily fired, but no Globo editorial managers have been held to account over the incident.

The New York Times fired managing editor Howell Raines over the (somewhat trivial, in the scheme of the things) Jayson Blair confabulation affair. And Raines was an extremely reputable and competent editor, say many who worked with him.

Can the same be said of Globo’s Ali Kamel? See

The contrast could not be more stark: Between (1) demonstrating awareness of the reputational risk, and moving to protect the institution — in the interest of all its stakeholders, including its journalists and readership — and (2) engaging in sleazy queima de arquivo, which only serves to fuel the kind of bumper-sticker sentiment we saw start to circulate this week, as Globo’s broadcast concessions expired:

The image “https://i0.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/globolies.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Globo lies.

But it is important to note that Globo’s G1 news portal, for example, does not lie, I find.

I read it every day.

G1 practices Five Ws journalism, has good information design, and its editorial priorities seem both coherent and recognizably oriented toward the public interest.

(Yes, it channels some stealth marketing that I find objectionable — “G1 reports from Second Life!” — but, well, one thing at a time.)
G1 is not the only news service the news junkie needs to read, but if Martians invaded the earth and all other news services went off the air, you could, I think, trust the newsroom at G1 to give you an accurate blow by blow.

Ali Kamel, on the other hand — director of Globo Journalism Central — systematically violates the many of the “thou shalt nots” of the new FENAJ code.

So it is, on balance, I think, a good thing for Brazilian news consumers to see Brazilian journalists adopting principles that represent a substantial repudiation of Ali Kamelism.

Because labor bears the brunt of management’s mismanagement of the brand.

And then, too, as I like to point out: Mônica Veloso, the attractive femme fatale at the heart of the Calheiros scandal at the moment, is a former TV Globo anchorwoman turned political marketing contractor to political parties and government agencies.

It would be interesting to see a local press pundit reflect on the woman’s professional trajectory in that light.

It seems emblematic, in a way.


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