On Jan. 19, a South Carolina lawmaker proposed a bill that would require journalists to register with the government before reporting state news, according to Time. The bill, introduced by Republican State Rep. Mike Pitts, was aimed as a critique of press coverage of gun control legislation as well as an effort to make journalists “adhere to a code of ethics.”
The proposed “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law” calls for journalists to be examined by a panel of experts to determine whether or not they qualify as “responsible” reporters before they can be hired by a media outlet. It would impose fines on journalists who don’t go through this process, and may also charge a fee for reporters to be listed in the registry.
Pitts, who notably opposed removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House in 2015, has been vocal about his opposition to gun control laws, and linked his proposed bill to what he saw as press demonization of gun rights.
He emphasized that the press response to regulating the media invoked the Constitution’s First Amendment right to freedom of the press, while other articles published by journalists in South Carolina had been critical of gun ownership that is supported by the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.
"It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms," Pitts told the Charleston Post and Courier. "With this statement I'm talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o'clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership."
The bill was met with widespread criticism from journalists around the country, who denounced it as authoritarian and unnecessary. Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, called the measure bizarre, according to The Associated Press.
"Any registration of journalists would be unconstitutional -- unless you lived in Cuba or North Korea," Rogers said.
The bill was sent to a committee for debate.