Dulce Neto: Dialogue with an Adventist journalist in Portugal

Dulce Neto was born in 1964 in Angola. As the civil war raged in the country, she moved with her family to Namibia, and two years later to Portugal. When she was 10, she became a Seventh-day Adventist.

At 19, with very high grades in secondary school, Dulce started her law studies at the University of Coimbra, the country's oldest institution of higher learning. While studying there, she began writing for journals. After graduation, she commenced her internship in law, but journalism attracted her interests. In 1989, Dulce started working for the respected newspaper Público.

Being an editor in a national newspaper and also the single mother of two girls poses its problems. However, Dulce has always been involved in church activities, as youth director, co-founder of AMiCUS in Portugal, and moderator in church panels on sensitive topics such as abortion and homosexuality. She is currently an elder and women's ministry director in her church and is frequently invited to preach.

Please tell us how you entered journalism.

As I was completing my secondary studies, I felt attracted to history. However, after seeking the counsel of several pastors, I was convinced that the church needed more experts in law. In my third year at the university, I had an opportunity to work for the university radio. In that same year I began writing for a new newspaper in Coimbra. I was also part of a group that debated human rights. We were the first in Portugal to denounce child labor and we spoke about terrorism, prisoners' rights, etc. This group was very important for my motivation in journalism.

And then?

After my internship, I enrolled in a postgraduate program in communication law. Once this was completed, I began a Master's program in criminal law. But because I missed many lectures on Sabbath, I could not write my thesis and complete that degree. I then took a Master's degree with emphasis on European organizations and institutions.

In the national newspaper Público I was given the responsibility of editor for the education section. At 34, I was the first woman named to the newspaper editorial board and as one of the executive editors. After a while, however, I requested a change in responsibilities because I was expecting my second child. So I started working as a reporter for Pública, the weekly magazine of Público, and two years later I became its editor. After a reorganization of the magazine, I am now responsible for one of its most important departments and have Saturdays free. Thus far, everyone accepts this arrangement.

Who were the people that exerted the strongest influence in your formation?

First, my parents. Mother is an avid reader, and she taught me to enjoy reading at an early age. On the other hand, my father pushed me to learn and to aim high in life. By the time we were four years old, my brother and I had learned to read and do advanced calculus.

Next to my parents, pastor João Esteves exerted a powerful influence in my Christian development. He taught us the beauty of the gospel and the reliability of the Bible as a guide for our life. In high school, I had a very demanding but fantastic teacher. Once he told me, “You're in charge of the next five class lectures!” And I took the challenge. His attitude motivated me and gave me self-confidence.

I have always treasured a statement that Ellen G. White wrote in Messages to Young People: “You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard.… There are responsibilities for every one to bear; and we can fulfill life's grand mission only when these responsibilities are fully accepted, and faithfully and conscientiously discharged” (pp. 36, 37).

How did you start working for Público?

Those supporting the project announced that it was going to be the best newspaper in Portugal. Many applications were received, and 600 journalists were pre-selected. The first screening test fell on Saturday. It was hard for me to not being able to participate, as I knew that many of my friends were going to take it. When I phoned asking for an exception, the organizers laughed at me. I tried to console myself, remembering that “God opens a window when there is a closed door.”

When the results were made known, only 20 from the 600 journalists were hired, and other 20 were selected as contributors. This meant I was completely excluded. Unexpectedly, however, I received a phone call from the recruiters asking if I'd be willing to be a contributor to the newspaper. They said that my application had been one of the best, and that they knew about my work at the radio and at other newspapers. That was amazing!

What attracted you to journalism?

A good journalist has the power to change things and make a difference for good. For instance, if we make a report about a poor neighborhood, the local authorities take action to remedy the situation. Or when you write about an important educational issue that must be addressed, the government actually does something in the direction you pointed in the newspaper. Of course, you must know the facts and present good arguments.

Once the Portuguese minister of education, Marçal Grilo, invited me to accompany him as a journalist while visiting government schools and meeting with educators. Twice he asked me to cover school visits on Saturdays, but I told him that I could not do it due to my religious convictions. So he learned that I was a Seventh-day Adventist and what it meant. He respected my decision. Two years later, he asked me to write a book about him and his ideas. He trusted me so much that he even gave me access to his diary.

How do you manage not to work on the Sabbath?

When I started working for Público, I could not be a member of the editorial board because I would not be in the office on Saturdays. In 1991, the editor in chief, who appreciated my work, asked me half in jest, “If a plane crashes on the towers of the University of Coimbra on Saturday, would you cover the story?” I said, “No, but we can make a deal. I will join the editorial board, and on the day the plane crashes on the towers and I don't report the story, you can fire me.” Until today there has been no plane crash! (laughing) When I was appointed executive editor, I was responsible every day for the first page of the newspaper. That created a problem for Friday evenings and Saturdays. So I asked the director about it, and he just said there was no problem. That was a fantastic answer from God. He does answer our prayers when we are faithful.

Tell us about your involvement with AMiCUS Portugal.

This is an important initiative. I was part of the committee that in 1997 drafted the first statutes for the association. I was also among the Portuguese delegation that attended the Euro-Africa Division AMiCUS Congress in Italy in 2005. The number of Adventists studying in institutions of higher learning in our country continues to grow. Our church should make this ministry one of high priority.

You also fought for the rights of the Adventist students...

There was a law protecting the rights of high school students to observe the Sabbath. But the law did not apply to students in higher education. So when I was attending the university, I persistently argued that the law should apply also to us. Once I had to miss an exam that fell on Saturday. Two of my colleagues wrote a 15-page document arguing that my conscience should be protected by Portuguese law, which I have used to help other Adventists facing a similar challenge. Meanwhile, the government moved, and now there is a law that protects the religious convictions of students in higher education.

What advice would you give to an Adventist who is thinking of a career in journalism?

Journalism is not incompatible with your Christian faith convictions. It offers many opportunities to serve and influence public opinion. But you should be the best! Problems may arise in your relation with the employing organization, which can happen in any profession. Because of its characteristics, the biggest challenge Adventists face in journalism is Sabbath-keeping. But if you are a good professional and if you work for a good organization, the problems can be solved, and you can enjoy your work. You must be honest, impartial, and independent in your thinking.

Would you like to share another thought with Dialogue readers?

You should make excellence grow in you. Be demanding on yourself, both in your intellectual and in your spiritual life. If you know Jesus, you will be at peace in your profession. The choices you make today will determine your eternal destiny. So cultivate your friendship with Him every day.

Miguel Nunes is studying aerospace engineering at Instituto Superior Técnico, an engineering university in Portugal. He is an AMiCUS member and enjoys playing the violin. His email address: miguel_nunes@yahoo.com.

Dulce Neto may be contacted through dneto@publico.pt. The link to the journal for which she works is http://www.publico.clix.pt.