Michigan legislator proposes law to license journalists
The idea that the states were to be the “laboratories of freedom” has been an idea expressed for years by advocates of liberty. New concepts, supposedly rooted in liberty, were to be tried in the states to see if they worked and could be applied more broadly within the nation.
But, as we’ve learned over the years, the states can also be laboratories of tyranny as well. Or at least attempts at tyranny. Michigan offers the latest example:
A Michigan lawmaker wants to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”
Nothing nebulous or arbitrary there. More importantly, since when – given the 1st Amendment to the Constitution – does any legislative body have the power to regulate speech? The 1st Amendment was incorporated to apply to the states in 1925 (See Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)(dicta)).
Here’s the interesting part – the legislator in question is a Republican and, according to the article, “practices Constitutional law.” He may practice it, but he doesn’t appear to understand it very well.
He claims his desire to regulate the licensing of journalists is in the public interest.
“Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government,” he said.
He told FoxNews.com that some reporters covering state politics don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re working for publications he’s never heard of, so he wants to install a process that’ll help him and the general public figure out which reporters to trust.
“We have to be able to get good information,” he said. “We have to be able to rely on the source and to understand the credentials of the source.”
If you missed the nuance, he’s essentially saying that government, through it’s licensing process, will determine what media is “legitimate” and what isn’t. No state seal of approval (i.e. license) equals illegitimate media.
The obvious problem, even to those a little slow on the uptake, is not just the licensing, but the power that gives government to show it’s displeasure with a journalist or the story (or investigation, etc.) the journalist has produced by pulling his or her license.
These are the provisions of the bill:
According to the bill, reporters must provide the licensing board proof of:
–“Good moral character” and demonstrate they have industry “ethics standards acceptable to the board.”
–Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.
–Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.
–Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.
–Three or more writing samples.
Reporters will also have to pay an application and registration fee.
The bill doesn’t prevent others who are not licensed by the state from covering Michigan (certainly not initially), but the intent is clear.
Bruce Patterson, the legislator in question, says there’s little chance his bill will pass. As others point out, it is a single sponsor bill. And Patterson is now claiming that he’s only trying to provoke a discussion with his bill to point out the difficulty of knowing if an information source is legitimate:
“What’s the definition of a reporter? I haven’t been able to find out? What’s a reporter? What’s a journalist?” Patterson said. “I thought you had to have a degree in journalism but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist.”
Patterson said he wants a central place where members of the public can go to find out about reporters’ credentials, background and experience. “I’m talking about a central depository for information so someone can go find all that out,”
Patterson said, comparing his idea to the vetting process for expert witnesses who testify in court. The senator said that he feels that there’s no way to tell who’s a legitimate journalist and who’s just rewriting other reporters’ reporting and twisting facts.
Hmmm … how about assuming the responsibility on your own? I would guess that most of us who read the offerings on the net, for instance, and various blogs know which ones we can trust and which ones aren’t at all trustworthy. We also know enough check something controversial with numerous sources. Most of us have hear of snopes.com and factcheck.org where we can vet rumors. What we certainly don’t need is some state deciding the only “legitimate” reporters out there are some “J school” grad – not with what we’ve seen over the past few years from their ilk.
Anyway, I found this to be quite interesting. I don’t necessarily buy into his contention that he introduced this just to stir discussion (I’m guessing that’s his fall-back position after receiving a lot of resistance to this) but it certainly has.
The most important thing it suggests is there are people on both sides who would regulate your life to a point where most choice – the essence of freedom – would be removed from it. And, they are in both parties – an important point. What is important to do, and one of the function of blogs, in my opinion, is to expose such ideas to the light of day. Of course, had I done this under the auspices of the proposed Michigan law, I’d have been an illegitimate source and you would be advised to ignore me.