There are always politicians who want to shut up journalists and control the media, going all the way back to the days when a “journalist” was essentially a guy with a knapsack and a horse who would bring messages to the local king. Enough kings didn’t like what they heard that to this day we have the saying of “don’t kill the messenger.”
President Obama loves to blame Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the conservative blogosphere for the well-deserved criticism of him and his policies. But he’s far from the only complainer.
In our modern day America, politicians on both sides of the aisle like to rail against the media, and with the boom in online information including video, there’s no real wonder why. Still, most politicians seem to understand that the First Amendment protects the conveyers of information, and if they don’t most of them have staff members who will soon remind them.
Not so apparently in South Carolina, where a Republican lawmaker, Mike Pitts, has proposed a bill that would require journalists to register with the government and pay a fee before reporting on the state’s news.
The full text of the bill isn’t available at the time of this writing, but according to the Associated Press, the “responsible journalism registry” would come with requirements that someone would have to meet before he could work for a news outlet anywhere in the state.
The bill would also provide for fines and criminal penalties for people who violate the law.
Ashley Landess of the South Carolina Policy Council said, “I hope that this insane attempt at shutting up any hint of criticism finally wakes everyone up to how dangerous and how out of control our legislators are.”
It won’t, of course. Such is the state of education and civic duty in this country.
The effort by the state to control the media, either directly or indirectly (such as through PR managers), is never good. It’s one of the hallmarks of every tyranny that’s ever existed throughout history.
Truth is always the first victim.
Still, it’s not like the media are so innocent or responsible that they haven’t brought this sort of thing on themselves.
Case in point, the AP story about this bill also mentions that Pitts opposed removing the confederate flag from the state capitol, as if there’s a direct connection. It’s one of those little tricks the professional media like to pull to make you, the reader, equate conservatives with racism, which is normally the closest the liberal wing of the media will come to using the word “evil.”
Efforts to make journalists more responsible aren’t actually a bad idea. It just can’t come from government because there would always be ulterior motives other than delivering the truth to the public. The government manipulates the media now when it’s mostly illegal. Imagine if there was a law allowing that to happen?
Those who consider themselves professional journalists (a very small percentage of information producers these days) should give some thought to issues like responsibility and respectability. It would ultimately be to the benefit of journalists and the public they are supposed to serve.