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International Journalism
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Fact Sheet on Foreign Press Credentials

International Journalism Committee Chair

Ricardo Sandoval
Assistant City Editor
Sacramento Bee
Bio (click to expand) picture Ricardo Sandoval is Assistant City Editor at the Sacramento Bee newspaper. He supervises the paper’s environment, science and regional development teams of reporters. Before joining The Bee, Sandoval was a foreign correspondent, based in Mexico City, for the Dallas Morning News and Knight Ridder Newspapers. Sandoval was born in Mexico and raised in San Diego, California. He graduated with a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in Northern California. His career has spanned three decades and has included award-winning coverage of California agriculture, immigration, the savings and loan scandal and the deregulation of public utility companies. His list of awards includes the Overseas Press Club, the InterAmerican Press Club, the Gerald Loeb prize for business journalism and two honors from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Sandoval co-authored — with his wife, journalist Susan Ferriss — the biography “The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement” published in 1997 by Harcourt.

Ronnie Lovler, vice chair
Bio (click to expand) picture Ronnie Lovler is associate director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University. She is also senior writer for the nonprofit, and its public-interest news service, “News You Might Have Missed”. In addition to serving as international committee chair, Ronnie is a member of the executive board of the northern California chapter of SPJ. Ronnie taught journalism at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida before moving to San Francisco.

Ronnie’s journalism career spans several decades. She served as bureau chief and correspondent for CNN in Latin America for almost 10 years. During her time at CNN, she reported from every country in Latin America. She also worked for CBS News, The Weather Channel and The Associated Press, as well as The San Juan Star in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She was part of a team of observers headed by President Jimmy Carter monitoring electoral processes in Nicaragua (2001) and Venezuela (2004). During the 2005 U.S. hurricane season, Ms. Lovler worked with the American Red Cross as a volunteer crisis communicator and public information officer. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and her graduate degree in communications at the University of Florida.

Home > International Journalism > Fact Sheet on Foreign Press Credentials

International Journalism
Fact Sheet on Foreign Press Credentials

What follows is some general advice on obtaining and using press credentials outside your own country, based on the experience of foreign correspondents. Remember that each country has different requirements. Some require no accreditation at all, while others try to make sure reporters are accompanied by information ministry officials nearly all the time. Remember, these are only general guidelines. There is no substitute for your own research on the countries you plan to visit.

The Basics

An assignment letter or letter of introduction is essential. It should be on company letterhead, signed by a senior editor or producer in the news organization, dated recently -- and be as specific as possible about the nature of your assignment. Lesser-known publications, broadcasters or Web sites might be wise to include some background to convince officials of the legitimacy of the news organization. Try to have several signed originals of the letter, since most officials do not like to receive copies and it may be required at numerous offices. If possible, address the letter to the specific department or official handling press credentials, but a“to whom it may concern” letter is usually acceptable. If your news organization has an official stamp or seal, use it on the letter; in some countries it can make a difference.

It helps to have an official identification card or press card issued by your news organization.

Do not take it personally if you are freelancing and cannot obtain a letter or credential from the place you usually publish. Some organizations, as a matter of policy, simply will not vouch for any but their own writers and photographers.

Press credentials from your local police department or some other organization are also helpful. Government agencies will often respect the official documents of other agencies. Make your intentions known and begin your research as far in advance as possible. Write or visit the local embassy of the country or countries you plan to visit. Even a business card from the ambassador can open some doors for you. Don’t neglect the government press office in the foreign capital. Seek advice from the U.S. embassy press officer in the country. Talk to a journalist working in the country, or someone who has recently been there. Inquire at the local press association, journalists’ union or foreign correspondents association; sometimes those groups handle accreditation rather than the government.

Work ahead to develop local contacts in the country where you will be reporting. Not only will it pay off in your news gathering, it will help you discover early on whether you need to provide local references to government officials. If you manage an interview with a big shot, get this person’s business card, too -- and don’t be afraid to show it.

In some cases, officials will ask for evidence of financial support. This is especially true on a long-term assignment. A line in the letter saying that your news organization will pay all expenses is usually sufficient, but some countries go so far as to require resident foreign correspondents to maintain a local bank account.

Be open and honest. It's usually best to inform the government (in some cases it’s an information ministry, sometimes an arm of the foreign ministry) upon your arrival that you plan to be working as a reporter. Find out beforehand whether you will need a special visa as a journalist. You don't want to be stuck at the airport or sent home on the next plane.

Get in touch with the press attaché of your own embassy when you arrive. They can often help with advice on local press rules.

In countries where the government might place restrictions on foreign reporters, you need to weigh those limitations against the consequences of being caught without proper accreditation. In the end it’s a decision only you can make, but when dealing with the police, armed forces or other officials it’s almost always better to have official accreditation.

Carry plenty of passport-sized photographs. Some countries require multiple accreditation applications, and each will require at least two photos. They aren’t always easy to obtain away from home.

Be flexible and patient, but persistent. In some countries, the first response to any journalist’s inquiry is,“It is not possible.” Good research and good sense can help you pass official roadblocks to good reporting.

Some Warnings

Beware of people or organizations that may try to sell you press credentials; such documents are almost always useless. A legitimate journalist should be able to get legitimate credentials. It’s best not to fake it.

Don’t expect free travel or other benefits from a press credential. The card simply identifies you as a working journalist -- and you undermine that status if you abuse the credential.

If you’re not traveling as a journalist, don’t pretend that you are. By misrepresentation you would endanger yourself and other legitimate professionals.

And once you have a credential, never lend it to anyone.

Prepared by Michael Collins of Oakland, Calif., an independent reporter and TV producer.

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