On Tuesday, a South Carolina state representative who attempted to keep the Confederate flag flying outside the statehouse, and was investigated by the Post and Courier for his spending habits, introduced a bill designed to create a registry for journalists.
The bill, called the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law,” was brought by State Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens), whom the Post and Courier examined for using funds for trips he took to Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon.
Pitts told the Post and Courier he modeled his bill after the “concealed weapons permitting law.” He added, “It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms. 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.”
The measure would force the Secretary of State’s office to maintain a “responsible journalism registry” and join with a panel to decide what criteria would qualify someone as a journalist. An unregistered journalist would be subject to a fine of $25 to $500, cited with a misdemeanor, and possibly face a 30-day jail sentence.
Pitts argued that working journalists did not follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, asserting, “Do journalists, by definition, really adhere to a code of ethics? The problem that I have with the printed press is, like I said, it appears especially in the last decade to me each story has become more editorial than reporting. It might just be my perception.”
Charles Bierbauer, a University of South Carolina journalism professor and dean of the College of Information and Communications, said pointedly, “These are nuisance bills that allow an elected official to say, ‘I proposed to bring down those muckrakers.’”
Although the bill has no chance of passing, it has been sent to the Committee on Labor, Commerce and Industry. Pitts remained optimistic about his bill, saying, “Let’s be realistic; this is an election year. 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.”
Bill Rogers, director of the SC Press Association, stated, “The Constitution doesn’t say anything about responsible journalism, it says free journalism. I don’t trust the government to say who’s qualified to be a journalist, and I’m surprised he does.”