SC lawmakers consider forcing journalists to register with the state to eliminate freedom of the press
04/22/2016 / By JD Heyes / Comments
SC lawmakers consider forcing journalists to register with the state to eliminate freedom of the press

South Carolina is considered a “red state” – that is, one whose legislature is dominated, supposedly, by small-government conservatives and whose governor, Nikki Haley, was a darling of the Tea Party when she was running for her first term. In fact, one of the most conservative of all U.S. senators, Tim Scott, was appointed by Haley to replace a retiring Republican in 2013.

So what gives with the South Carolina legislature considering a bill that is pro-big government, anti-free speech and smacks of authoritarianism?

As reported by The State, Rep. Mike Pitts, a Republican from Laurens, filed a bill recently in the South Carolina House that would establish a “responsible journalism registry” that would be managed by the S.C. secretary of state.

A summary of the legislation says the measure would “establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist.” The summary also says the bill would establish registration fees, set fines for non-compliance and establish criminal penalties for violations.

That’s about as nanny state as it gets: fees, fines and penalties.

The State reported further:

A person seeking to register with the state as a journalist would have to submit a criminal record background check and “an affidavit from the media outlet attesting to the applicant’s journalistic competence.”

The full paragraph of the bill, H. 4102, says, “A person seeking to register shall provide all information required by the office including, but not limited to, a criminal record background check, an affidavit from the media outlet attesting to the applicant’s journalistic competence, and an application fee in an amount determined by the office.”

Thankfully, not everyone in the state is in agreement that the bill is a good idea. You can include Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association (The State is a member of that organization), who said the registry proposal “is ridiculous and totally unconstitutional.”

Governments – state or federal – cannot require journalists to register, said Rogers. He cited the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press as evidence of that.

Pitts told The Post and Courier that while his bill is not a reaction to any particular news story, it is intended instead to stimulate a discussion over how he believes gun issues are being reported.

“It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts said. “With this statement I’m talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o’clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership.”

The measure states that persons are “not competent” to be journalists in the state if, within three years of applying for the registry, they have been convicted of “libel, slander, or invasion of privacy; or… a felony if the underlying offense was committed to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet.”

Also, a candidate for registry would be denied if “the person has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.”

The assumption is that the secretary of state gets to make the determination, and that such determinations are likely to be arbitrary (“I was objective!” “No you weren’t!”).

While there isn’t much chance a law like this passes, even if it does it is highly unlikely it would withstand judicial scrutiny. That said, it’s hard to imagine such a law would even be proposed by a member of a political party that is supposedly opposed, ideologically, to the overarching control of nanny government.

One other point: In this day and age, the Internet has created a massive army of citizen journalists who aren’t necessarily educated as journalists or who don’t practice traditional journalism, but who nevertheless “report” news and events as they happen. A bill like this would kill citizen journalism in South Carolina.

Sources:

The State

The Daily Sheeple

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