A South Carolina state representative who once introduced legislation to replace federal paper currency with gold and silver coins wants the government to set guidelines for who can be a journalist and keep a registry of those doing "responsible" work.
In his "South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law," Mike Pitts, a Republican lawmaker who emerged last year as a leading supporter of keeping the Confederate battle flag flying at the statehouse, calls for the state to "establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist."
Pitts' bill would require the South Carolina Secretary of State's office to establish and operate a "responsible journalism registry." The law also calls for "fines and criminal penalties" for those who violate its statutes.
News organizations and free speech advocates would surely oppose any legislation proposing requirements on who can or cannot be considered a journalist. It's not clear in the legislation what criteria the government would use to decide who's a journalist, or what exactly constitutes noncompliance with the law.
Pitts did not respond to calls for comment from The Huffington Post.
It appears that Pitts proposed the bill in an attempt to call attention to what he perceives as unfair coverage of guns. The lawmaker told The Post and Courier Monday that he is "not a press hater," but wanted to spark discussion about how print and TV news outlets cover Second Amendment rights.
“It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts told the Charleston paper. “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.”
Jennifer Dunham, director of research for Freedom House’s annual “Freedom of the Press” study, said her organization considers journalist registries to be a detriment to press freedom.
"Two of the worst media freedom violators in the world, China and Iran, also have requirements for journalists to register or have government-issued press cards to be considered legitimate,” Dunham told HuffPost. “These are issued by the government and can be revoked at any time."
“I don’t think we really want to be put in the same category as those countries,” she added.
This piece has been updated with comments from Jennifer Dunham.