Georgia Republicans want to regulate journalists

Bill would penalize reporters if a “journalism ethics” board decides their reporting is “unfair”

This story is so shocking it’s best told in Huffington Post’s own words:

“A group of Republican state representatives in Georgia on Tuesday introduced legislation that would establish a ‘journalism ethics board’ that would enforce ‘canons of ethics’ for journalists and news organizations in the state ….

“State Rep. Andy Welch (R), the lawmaker spearheading the HB734 bill, recently complained about an interview with a reporter that he felt was unfair, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The bill would set up a board … who would develop and enforce ‘canons of ethics for journalism which shall comport with industry standards regarding factual and ethical reporting.’ The board would evaluate media-related complaints from Georgia residents and penalize journalists by stripping their accreditation or putting them on probation.

“Under the bill, any person interviewed by the media would have the right to request audio, video and/or photos of their interviews for free and could sue reporters and news organizations if they fail to provide them.

“‘That is not to say the freedom to report is not there,’ Welch told reporters about his legislation. “It’s just a question about what it means to be a part of the press, and whether or not there should be a set of canons of ethics that all members of the media within the state of Georgia would be willing to live by.'”

Read story here. Now, it needs to be pointed out that this bill hasn’t passed yet, and if it ever does, it obviously won’t survive a court challenge. But the mere fact a group of GOP legislators are seriously proposing this tells you how little they know about the Bill of Rights (except, of course, the Second Amendment).

What’s most surprising is that State Rep. Andy Welch isn’t some farmer whose civics education consisted of sleeping through 9th grade civics class. He’s a lawyer from a major Atlanta law firm, so he ought to know better. I can’t help thinking he does, and is just being a jerk about am unflattering news story. But the rest of his party joining in is disturbing.

Politicians complaining about reporters is as ancient as the sun. GOP efforts to muzzle the media and punish free speech go back almost as far. Such efforts led to Watergate and Nixon’s downfall. A number of GOP legislatures passed so-called “ag-gag” laws making it a crime to report abuse of farm animals. Needless to say, the courts struck down those laws. South Dakota Republicans just enacted a law imposing vicarious criminal and civil liability on every member of a protest group for any illegal act committed by any member of the group. It, too, is destined for the dustbin. The First Amendment simply doesn’t allow punishing speech or reporting they dislike. But they keep trying.

Photo: GOP State Rep. Andy Welch, a lawyer, thinks government should regulate news reporting in Georgia.



0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    On reading the actual statute there is nothing on the bills face that is unconstitutional at the Federal level. Whether it passes muster at the Georgia state level depends on the Georgia’s state constitution where the bill is possible even more likely to be unconstitutional than at the federal level.

    The only open question is whether the bill would create a chilling effect on journalists speech. Or non-journalists speech and they declined to state who is a journalist. Of course the journalism ethics board could create strong rules of ethics in support of the first amendment. The board could create a cannon that double protects journalists and others on first amendment grounds. Providing the means for individuals to demand copies of materials used in a journalists story on the individual does not seem overly demanding, and arguable individuals can do that now in Georgia, though it would mean filing a law suit against the journalist or newspaper.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Any law that tries to regulate news reporting is unconstitutional on its face, regardless of its wording or what form it takes. The First Amendment applies to states, too.

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