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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Freedom of the press is no laughing matter

On Jan. 19, 2016, Rep. Mike Pitts introduced the South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law. The bill, if passed into law, would enforce fines and prison time for a journalist who prints his or her works without being “accepted” into an approved journalism registry.

Besides the indisputable reality that the freedom of the press relies on the principle that journalists need not be licensed, rendering this bill blatantly unconstitutional, Pitts has also come forward stating that the bill was introduced to draw a parallel between how he believes the press “tramples,” as he wrote in a Facebook post, on Second Amendment rights, and how they “only care about the constitution when it comes to their portion of the 1st Amendment.” Pitts also stated the press demonizes the Tea Party, and that “if they had their way, there would be no 2nd Amendment.”

While Second Amendment rights issues are always called into controversy, Pitts’ defense of concealed weapon laws — which this rebuttal bill was somehow inspired by — could be directly tied to the newly proposed bill by Rep. Sonny Borelli, which would allow all students and faculty members to carry a concealed weapon on all public universities, colleges and community colleges in Arizona.

It is important to be vigilant for those who seek to suppress freedom of the press because of their dissatisfaction with how some of their hot-button issues are being reported; it is important to be vigilant of citizens like Pitts, even if the journalism bill really was just a stunt to spark a larger conversation.

Pitts’ introduction of the responsible journalism registry bill as a response to his frustration over how gun policies were being “demonized,” is not only reckless coming from a politician who is expected to respect the severity of the lawmaking process, but also futile. Introducing this bill was a waste of taxpayer money and everyone’s time. This action by Pitts, which he later told The Post and Courier that he did not “anticipate it going anywhere,” is a paramount example of what happens when people choose to only support what the First Amendment stands for when it is benefitting them.

The First Amendment cannot be supported selectively; Pitts’ bill is ironic in the way that he accuses the press of representing gun policies with too much bias, while using his own personal opinions and bias on gun policy to fuel its proposal.

Furthermore, Pitts’ statement that all reporters and people working in the press have a fight to pick with gun policy is an unsupported and a sweeping generalization, considering it is fairly safe to say Pitts has not met and discussed gun policy with every single reporter in America.

His attack on how reporters choose to do their jobs just propels the trite stereotypes of the press. Again the irony in Pitts’ statements about the press can be seen when he states in the same Facebook post, “They constantly attack people who follow their Christian beliefs and attempt to portray them as bigots.” Pitts, of course, is criticizing “attacks” launched by the press by explicitly launching his own personal attack on the press itself.

Further examination of the parallel Pitts was attempting to draw with the registry bill, reveals that it seems to be a bit of a stretch to compare being licensed and having a background check conducted in order to purchase a gun to having to go through the same process to work in the news industry. The process of being approved for gun ownership is so controversial for many because of the imminence of danger that firearms can cause, should they fall into the wrong hands. While it would also be unsettling for the task of collecting and distributing the truth in the form of news for citizens to fall into dishonest or incapable hands, a person’s life would most likely not be immediately put in danger by one instance of irresponsible journalism, unlike one unfortunate instance of irresponsible gun ownership.

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, put it best in his reprimand of the registry bill in The Washington Post: “Say what you like about revising gun laws — but don’t introduce bills that would clearly violate the First Amendment, even as a way to make a rhetorical point.”

The freedom of press in America is of the upmost importance to our democracy, and its handling should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, American citizens should be aware that it is perfectly acceptable to have their disagreements or differences with the press, but the press will not be smothered or manipulated just because someone, a group of people or even multiple groups of people will not always like what is being said. 


Follow Jessica Suriano on Twitter


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