In a move slammed by free speech advocates and supporters of press freedom, Georgia politicians are considering a law that would create a journalism board to oversee the work of journalists in the state.
The new law was introduced by state legislator Andrew Welch just before he resigned his seat and it has generated widespread outrage. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) denounced the bill as a means “to intimidate journalists and chill the important work of holding powerful people and organizations accountable for their actions.”
Georgia lawmakers introduced HB 734, the “Ethics in Journalism Act.” The act creates a state Journalism Ethics Board that would enact several controls upon the freedom of the press. It would develop an accreditation process for journalists, “Promulgate canons of ethics for journalism” and establish a system to handle residents’ complaints of ethics violations by journalists, including sanctioning journalists for perceived violations.
According to the text of the bill, the commission would be comprised of nine members. The bill would also provide that “Any individual who is interviewed by a member of the media shall have the right, upon request, to a copy of a full, unedited version of any audio or video recording of such interview as well as any photographs taken in connection with such interview,” with the news organization or journalist who conducted the interview liable if they do not promptly respond, and any organization that runs the story is liable to a penalty of $100 a day.
The SPJ has pointed out that the bill conflicts with the first amendment of the US constitution.
This isn’t the first time state lawmakers around the country have done their best to prevent press freedom and decimate the first amendment rights of all citizens. In Indiana in late 2017, a lawmaker proposed a bill to have state police license journalists, a move that would ensure censorship and promote state-approved speech.