Georgia Republicans Seek To Regulate America’s Free Press

Republican Representative Andrew Welch of Georgia State HouseCourtesy of 'Andy Welch For House'

In Georgia, the Republican bill would fine those who violate a proposed canon of journalistic ethics.

According to CNN, a group of Georgia Republicans introduced a bill that could begin the imposition of regulations on members of the press. The regulations would include fining reporters who won’t turn over recordings to subjects of interviews.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Representative Andrew Welch among other GOP lawmakers. The bill hopes to establish a “Journalism Ethics Board” that could make “canons of ethics” and regulations for journalists in Georgia. The bill says that journalists and news outlets may be investigated and sanctioned for violating such canons of ethics" by the board.

If passed, the “Ethics in Journalism Act” could force media to give audio recordings and photographs by the interview subject. If journalists refuse, there could be a $100 per day penalty and the “court shall award reasonable litigation expenses and attorney fees to the individual bringing an action.”

Welch, the sponsor of the bill, said he is a "firm believer in the First Amendment's Protection of Freedom of the Press."

"Because the press plays such an important and vital role in the public discourse of our nation's representative-democracy, I think the public should know that the press in Georgia follows a known standard for ethical journalism," Welch wrote.

He said the board that would be created wouldn’t be required to adopt canons of ethics.

"In addition, the legislation specifically states that involvement with the Board of Ethics and adherence to any cannons of ethics adopted by this professional board is purely voluntary," he wrote. "This is in keeping with the Code of Ethics published by the Society of Professional Journalists."

"The right of a person interviewed to request and obtain a copy of their interview would apply to all journalists in Georgia and has nothing to do with voluntary accreditation or Article I of the bill," he continued.

A media lawyer says that the bill is unprecedented and it opens the door to journalists being punished for “violations” while doing their jobs.

Derek Bauer, a media lawyer, says the bill is “unconstitutional on its face.”

"The First Amendment prohibits any government assembly from imposing restrictions on the press, much less imbuing a regulatory authority with disciplinary or enforcement powers," he said. "Simply put, the US Constitution forbids assertion of government control over the free and independent press such as this bill attempts to do."

Bauer called the bill "entirely unnecessary," saying there "already exist canons of ethics for journalists," such as the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Associations.

"Any person who feels they are the subject of a defamatory news story can rely on those ethical guidelines when pursuing a claim," Bauer said, adding, "the point of the press protections in the First Amendment was to keep the government out of that space, and to make sure elected officials could not use their lawmaking responsibility to censor the media in this way."

Read the full story here.