Friday, June 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bill Targets Free Exercise|of Journalism in S.C.

(CN) - A state representative best known nationally for his efforts to keep the Confederate flag flying on South Carolina Statehouse grounds has proposed creating a "responsible journalism registry," with criminal penalties for violations.

State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, filed the bill on Tuesday. According the summary currently available online, the bill would "establish requirements for persons before working as a journalist for a media outlet and for media outlets before hiring a journalist."

The bill would require anyone who practices journalism in the state to register with the Secretary of State's office and submit to a criminal background check. The journalist's employer would also be required to attest to the applicant's competence.

The journalist or its employers would then have to pay an unspecified application fee.

The registration would be valid for two years and would have to be renewed within 30 days of its expiration.

Pitts' bill also would empower the secretary of state of "deny, revoke, or refuse to issue or renew a registration if the a media outlet has determined that the person is not competent to be a journalist.

Under the proposed law, those who would be deemed not to be journalists are individuals who have committed "libel, slander or invasion of privacy" although no criteria are spelled out for how that would be determined have committed a felony while gathering or distributing news, or have demonstrated "reckless disregard" for professional standards of truth, accuracy, objectivity and impartiality.

The bill also would establish criminal penalties for those who try to work as journalists in South Carolina without registering with the state.

Those penalties begin with a $25 fine for a first offense, and escalate to a potential misdemeanor conviction and a fine of $500 or 30 days in jail.

"Upon finding that conduct of a journalist or media outlet is in violation of this chapter, the Secretary of State's Office may order the person to cease and desist from engaging in the prohibited conduct," the bill says. "A journalist or media outlet that continues to engage in prohibited conduct in violation of an order is subject to an administrative penalty that may not exceed five hundred dollars for each violation of the order."

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association dismissed the proposed registry as "ridiculous and totally unconstitutional."


Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.