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, drawing concerns from First Amendment advocates.
The bill would set up a board, consisting of current journalists and a journalism professor, 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.”
Richard T. Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and a former vice president for CNN, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he initially “thought this was an April Fools joke.”
“This is clearly an effort to rein in those who have been scrutinizing what’s been happening at the Legislature,” he said. “Frankly, this is the kind of proposal one would expect to surface in a banana republic, not the Peach State.”
Jim Zachary, vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, condemned the bill as “un-American, undemocratic and unconstitutional.”
“The media is often the only public watchdog to hold government in check and has a long tradition as the Fourth Estate, holding our governors accountable,” he wrote in a column Tuesday. “Welch wants to reverse that role and have the government hold the media in check, especially when he does not like the reporting. This myopic piece of legislation appears to be personal with Welch and an overreaction to reporting that he did not like. The next time he gets bad service in a restaurant is he going to introduce a bill to regulate servers in Georgia?”
Tuesday was the final day of Georgia’s 2019 legislative session, but lawmakers could still consider the bill in 2020.