The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that a group of House Republican lawmakers in Georgia filed legislation to create a state Journalism Ethics Board. The newspaper reported the board would create "canons of ethics," issue advisory opinions, develop voluntary accreditation, and set up a system for investigating complaints and sanctioning accredited violators of such canons.
The newspaper also reported that Richard T. Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said, “Frankly, this is the kind of proposal one would expect to surface in a banana republic, not the Peach State.”
Shop Talk panelist Patrick Johnson questioned the need for such a board. He said laws already exist to prevent defamation and libel.
Johnson said the lawmaker who dreamed up the plan was upset and claimed media bias because a reporter asked tough questions about legislation. Johnson said journalists are supposed to ask tough questions. He said that’s not bias.
Panelist Will Buss considers the proposal to be prior censorship. He said politicians who don’t like what’s being reported are trying to intimidate journalists.
Buss said it is not in the public’s interest to have journalism that is guided by politicians. He said an independent press is needed to hold public officials accountable.
Panelist Rich Egger said journalists strive to ask questions they believe their audience would like answered. He said we’re headed down the wrong path if journalists can be penalized for asking questions.
Egger suggested a canon of ethics and accreditation process might be needed for people who serve in the Georgia legislature and other state legislatures.
Shop Talk is a weekly panel discussion. This week’s program featured Will Buss, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University and advises the student editors at the Western Courier; Patrick Johnson, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at WIU and advises Western’s student radio station WIUS/The Dog; and TSPR News Director Rich Egger.