In today’s march towards autocratic dystopianism, six Republican state representatives from Georgia are introducing a new state bill to create a state board to enforce “ethics in journalism.”
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, a lawyer who has expressed frustration with what he saw as bias from a TV reporter who asked him questions about legislation recently. He said he thinks the profession could benefit by setting ethical standards for all journalists to follow. Five other Republicans signed on to sponsor the bill.
Ah, the highest and best use of legislation: as a tool to punish anyone who asks you questions you don’t like.
The bill would establish an “independent” board that would create “canons of ethics” for journalists, create a (voluntary) accreditation system, and have the ability to “sanction” reporters by removing that accreditation as necessary.
There are, of course, several problems with this. The first is that, if anyone bothered to look, this infrastructure already exists; ethical codes already exist within the journalism profession, and if necessary, reporters can be required by employers to be certified via any one of numerous available training programs. Unethical reporters, such as those that engage in plagiarism, are typically “sanctioned” by being suspended or fired, after which they often turn up at conservative-leaning organizations that don’t make the same ethical demands of their new hires.
But the most obvious problem is that it is blazingly unconstitutional: Journalism, in the form of a free press, is the only profession specifically protected by the Constitution. The press may not be regulated by the state. It is written into the First Amendment, or at least it was the last time anybody looked.
You would think that the same group of Republicans so very bent on declaring that guns must flow through the land unrestricted because of the Second Amendment would hesitate for a wee moment before inventing a new loophole to circumvent the First Amendment, but no. It is apparently not considered odd to press for a new era in which weapons of war can be freely distributed to anyone, but you need certification to ask questions of the powerful.
And it is not hard to envision Welch’s proposal coming to that. While reporters would not be required by law to register with and be accredited by the state-crafted board, it is not difficult to imagine already press-dodging state lawmakers refusing to be interviewed by any member of the press who does not have that credential.
The central justification of the “independent” board, however, is an invented mechanism for enforcing the second major demand of the bill. The Republican bill requires that reporters turn over, free of charge, all photographs and tapes of an interview with a subject upon that subject’s request, a requirement to be enforced by the created “ethics” board. This is often done upon request anyway, but not necessarily; demanding it be a requirement would seemingly make it mostly a means for a disgruntled interviewee to harass and retaliate against their questioner. That it would require that those searches be done at the reporter’s or media company’s own expense is something Welch is being ribbed for, because Georgia lawmakers have exempted themselves from that same requirement: Ethics for thee and not for me seems to be etched deeply into the Republican psyche.
What we can glean from this is that some reporter asked a Republican lawmaker some pointed questions, the Republican didn’t like it, and in response he and five Republican friends are now demanding that all state reporters be trained in how to properly not ask such annoying questions, because he and they are gigantic babies who want all the trappings of office but none of the responsibilities. Get over yourselves.
Anyone who is willing to take a stand on stripping people of food aid or health insurance or not inconveniencing those with criminal records with unnecessary background checks before they purchase their next weapon ought to be able to stammer their way through an unpleasant session answering a handful of questions. Anyone who has such broad control over American lives can damn well suffer the indignity of some journalist, somewhere, being rude to them.
Stop with the incessant whining cowardice already. Enough with the notion that even being questioned as to your public stances and beliefs renders you a victim of cruel, organized machinations against you. Babies.