South Carolina Politicians Propose Ridculous Plan To Register Journalists… To Make A Statement About Gun Control

January 21, 2016 in News by RBN

Tech Dirt | Mike Masnick

from the damn-those-journalists dept

In a move that seems pretty clearly designed to piss off journalists (but will likely backfire seriously), South Carolina State Rep. Mike Pitts, has introduced a bill to “register journalists”supposedly to make a “point” about gun control. The bill is, laughably, called South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law which would “establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist. It would fine people for conducting journalism without registration or for hiring a “journalist” not on the registry.

From the details proposed so far, it appears that Pitts either has never heard of citizen journalists, or doesn’t think they should be allowed to exist. Instead, only “approved” journalists will be allowed. And to be approved, you have to submit to “a criminal record background check, an affidavit from the media outlet attesting to the applicant’s journalistic competence, and an application fee in an amount determined by the office.” Reporters would need to renew their listing every two years.

Importantly (and unconstitutionally!), the bill lists out reasons why the state might “deny, revoke or refuse to issue a registration,” including if the Secretary of State determines “that the person is not competent to be a journalist.”

(1) The Secretary of State’s Office may deny, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew a registration if the office finds that the person:

(a) has filed an application for registration that contains a statement that is false or misleading with respect to a material fact;
(b) has failed to pay the proper application fee or any other fee or penalty imposed pursuant to this chapter; or
(c) has failed to comply with any provision of this chapter.

(2) The Secretary of State’s Office shall deny, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew a registration if a media outlet has determined pursuant to Section 40-85-40 that the person is not competent to be a journalist.

So, yeah. The whole First Amendment thing guaranteeing freedom of the press? Yeah, that kinda makes this whole entire bill unconstitutional. But, Pitts, apparently, isn’t too concerned about the Constitution. As for what makes you not competent to be a journalist? Apparently, it includes not being objective enough. Really!

(A) A person is not competent to be a journalist if:

(1) within the three years before submitting an application for registration, the person has been determined by a court of law to have committed:
(a) libel, slander, or invasion of privacy; or
(b) a felony if the underlying offense was committed to collect, write, or distribute news or other current information for a media outlet; or

(2) as a journalist, the person has demonstrated a reckless disregard of the basic codes and canons of professional journalism associations, including a disregard of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability, as applicable to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.

Considering how frequently people like to throw around charges of bias towards basically any reporting they dislike, you can just imagine how well that one will go over.

And what happens if you happen to practice journalism without being on the registry? Well, then you face increasing fines and eventually imprisonment:

A person who works as a journalist without registering pursuant to Section 40-85-30(B):

(1) for a first offense, must be fined not more than twenty-five dollars;
(2) for a second offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor and must be fined not more than one hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than fifteen days, or both; and
(3) for a third or subsequent offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor and must be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

Right. Not that this bill has any chance in hell of becoming law (or remaining law if it somehow did pass), but I think I’ll be avoiding South Carolina for a while.

For what it’s worth, Pitts told the Post & Courier newspaper that he was really trying to start a discussion about proposals to register gun owners. Because… reasons.

Pitts told The Post and Courier his bill is not a reaction to any news story featuring him and that he is “not a press hater.” Rather, it’s to stimulate discussion over how he sees Second Amendment rights being treated by the printed press and television news. He added that the bill is modeled directly after the “concealed weapons permitting law.”

“It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts said. “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.”

That leaves aside some fairly big differences in the issue of gun control and a free press, but that’s a debate for another website.

Even Pitts admits that he doesn’t think the bill is going anywhere:

“Let’s be realistic; this is an election year,” Pitts said. “It is well into the second year and the Senate is not going to do anything this year and certainly not going to do anything controversial. So no, I don’t anticipate it going anywhere. Would I mind getting a hearing on it to further the debate and discussion? I would love to have that.”

If you squint, you can kinda sorta maybe see the logic behind the argument he’s making, but it’s difficult to see how he’s kicking off any serious discussion of much beyond “Hey, you proposed a really stupid bill.”