Policy Or Publicity Stunt? SC Lawmaker Calls For Journalist Registry
It’s become a well-known trope - a politician attacks the press for being biased, unaccountable, liberal. Now a Republican lawmaker in South Carolina wants to take it a bit further, he’s introduced legislation that would force journalists to register with the state or be subject to fines and jail time.
That lawmaker is Representative Michael Pitts of Laurens. And his Responsible Journalism Registry Bill would require all those working in the state to prove they are competent to be a journalist by submitting a criminal background check. Those who don’t comply would be fined up to $500, spend up to 30 days in jail or both.
This kind of registry is most often found in, shall we say, authoritarian regimes. This would be a first in America, where the rights of a free press are established in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"I was amazed that someone would introduce such a blatantly unconstitutional bill," says Bill Rogers, the executive director of the South Carolina Press Association. Now, he doesn’t think this bill will make it far. But if it does, "We would fight it tooth and nail on constitutional grounds."
Representative Pitts, the bill’s sponsor, didn’t return calls for an interview. But he told Charleston’s Post and Courier his bill was inspired by what he saw as unfair portrayals of guns and gun owners in the media.
Bill Rogers of the press association believes the bill is more of a publicity stunt.