ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46)- State and national journalism associations are speaking out in defense of Georgia journalists and the field of journalism.
Rep. Andy Welch, (R) McDonough introduced bill 734, which aims to regulate the media, Tuesday. While it failed this year, that does not mean it is over because it could be brought up in the 2020 legislative session.
Media professionals featured in this story say they are not worried about this necessarily becoming a law in Georgia because they believe the bill is at odds with protected speech covered by the first amendment but say they are ready to challenge it if it goes further.
Rep. Welch proposes creating a journalism ethics board which would come up with a set of standards which print, television and digital journalists would have to abide by.
"I feel like I should know that members of the press hold themselves to a very high standard of producing news of public discourse," said Welch.
Attorney Ian Byrnside, a partner at Baker Hostetler, says it's important to remember the first amendment also protects the public's right to receive important information.
"No matter how benevolent that someone may try and make this legislation sound, the public should be deeply concerned any time elected officials try and place limits on how or what the media reports," said Byrnside.
"There's no question here that it's an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of the press," he added."
The bill would also force any media outlet to hand over full versions of interviews, for free, to anyone featured in a story or they could be sued (both the journalist and the media outlet.)
Bob Houghton, with the Georgia Association of Broadcasters, says the whole idea is absurd. "You start with an unconstitutional situation and then take, how in the world are you going to police and take care of something like this?" said Houghton. "Not to mention the cost and expense of all this. It's got problems from so many different aspects that I just don't see it gaining traction."
RTDNA defends first amendment rights of electronic journalists, nationwide. Executive Director Dan Shelley explains that journalists exist to serve the public and are already regulated by the court of public opinion.
"If people think we're not fair, objective, and balanced in reporting the best obtainable version of the truth-- they can switch the channel, they can go to another source of information. Government regulation of journalism is unconstitutional, unnecessary and a broad overstep."
A note to the #Georgia legislature: Journalism ethics are a tool to empower the public, not a weapon for government silence journalism and avoid the accountability. #pressfreedomhttps://t.co/3eh8wgoN2t pic.twitter.com/lixVPtixbM— RTDNA 🎙🎥💻 (@RTDNA) April 3, 2019
RTDNA offers guiding principles for journalists to follow. Here is RTDNA'S Code of Ethics.
For full disclosure, Baker Hostetler represents multiple broadcast professionals including WGCL & the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.
Previous Coverage: Tuesday, April 2
Georgia lawmakers could be taking on the first amendment as they push to create a state journalism ethics board.
House Bill 734, sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, (R) McDonough, proposes establishing ethical standards which Georgia media must operate by.
The bill could be a slippery slope as the lawmaker proposes print, television, and digital journalists be held to a set ethical standard.
The bill suggests creating a board which would be made up of media representatives whom would be elected by the media.
Also, the board would create a "cannon of ethics" and hold accredited members to that standard. It would also mandate anyone interviewed by the media could request copies of video, audio and photographs of their interaction for free. If the media outlet does not comply then the organization could be sued in a civil case.
Reminder, state and local governments are able to charge for copies of documents given.
"That is not to say that the freedom to report is not there, it's just a question of what does it mean to be part of the press and whether or not there should be a set of canons of ethics that all members of media in the State of Georgia would be willing to live by," said Rep. Andy Welch.
With Tuesday ending the 2019 Georgia Legislative Session, this bill will be picked back up at the start of the next session in 2020 which lines up with what is projected to be a very hot election year.