WTVM Editorial 4-11-19: Unnecessary bill

Published: Apr. 11, 2019 at 1:18 PM EDT
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(WTVM) - One Georgia lawmaker is proposing legislation that would do lasting harm to those of us who gather the news to keep you informed.

We think you deserve to know what the bill proposes and what unintended consequences it would create for all the news outlets you rely on to keep you informed.

House Bill 734 would create a new set of rules for journalists, create an independent board to determine if a news story conforms to those rules and if it doesn’t, this group of overseers would determine what should be done to the journalist who violates those rules.

If that sounds like something a third world government might impose, you would be correct.

The proposed Georgia legislation would also make every television station, radio station, newspaper and magazine provide copies of their stories to any party interviewed, at no cost.

Even government agencies charge for providing copies of official documents.

To say that House Bill 734 would bankrupt every news station and journalistic entity is an understatement.

If the bill passes, making copies of stories would be all that we and every other news outlet would do, all day every day. Complying with those requests and facing a penalty if we didn’t, would quickly put us out of business.

In a word, House Bill 734 is ridiculous. The Constitution’s First Amendment provides for free speech of all kinds, which always trumps any state law trying to suppress it.

Responsible and professional journalists already adhere to a code of ethics.

The lawmaker pushing this bill proposed it after he disagreed with some Atlanta news coverage he received.

Of course, he has every right to debate the truth of that coverage, and if it’s wrong, the responsible journalist will correct it.

I’m honored to be this year’s chair of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters, which has come out strongly against House Bill 734.

We believe this bill is more than ill-advised. The proposal appears to be payback for unflattering news coverage.

Revenge should never be the purpose of the legislature and has no place in the law.

Lawmakers ought to know that reporters are entrusted by the public to hold officials accountable and we follow the rules to do it.

To propose a sweeping new law to keep journalists under state control and to force them to provide endless copies of their work at no charge, is completely unsupported by reality.

Such a measure is unnecessary and totally outrageous.

General Manager Holly Steuart brings two editorials a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

WTVM Editorial Committee

1909 Wynnton Road

Columbus, GA 31906

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