Georgia House Bill On “Journalism Ethics Board” Raises Serious First Amendment Concerns
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—A legislative proposal in the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday night raises serious concerns about government attempts to control and regulate the press, PEN America said today.
On Tuesday, April 2, the last day of the 2019 legislative session for the Georgia General Assembly, Republican Representative Andy Welch of McDonough pre-filed a new bill that will come before the House of Representatives in 2020, proposing to create a Journalism Ethics Board for the state. According to the bill, the board would be “independent,” with members appointed by the chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Among its duties, the board would reportedly be tasked with creating “canons of ethics” for journalists to ascribe to, as well as developing voluntary accreditation for members of the press, setting up a system to receive and investigate complaints about violations of the “canons,” and potentially “sanction” accredited members of the media found to have violated them. The bill would also entitle anyone the media interviews to receive, by request, copies of all visual and audio recordings or photographs of them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Representative Welch felt the journalism profession would benefit from the establishment of “ethical standards.” Five additional Republican lawmakers in Georgia have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.
“Legislative attempts to restrict freedom of the press are precisely what the First Amendment was written to prevent,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “This proposal flies in the face of the most basic freedoms laid out in our Constitution, and pre-filing the bill right before the close of one legislative session and months ahead of the next is clearly intended to cast a threatening cloud over the press in Georgia. Our communities deserve lawmakers who fight for their access to information, not seek to stifle it.”
Read more about PEN America’s work on press freedom across the country as part of our PEN Across America initiative here, as well as our lawsuit against President Trump for his attempts to use the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.
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