Michigan Politician Proposes Bill To Regulate Journalists So He Can Tell You Which Reporters To Trust

from the let-me-introduce-you-to-my-friend,-the-first-amendment dept

Romenesko points us to the news of a Michigan state senator, who has proposed a bill that would regulate the press. The bill would require people who want to be considered the press to pay a registration fee and submit writing samples to get registered. Also, you would need to have a journalism degree, three years of experience and a letter of recommendation from someone else in the club of "registered reporters." That old First Amendment makes this one a non-starter, of course. In response to that point, the Senator who proposed it, Bruce Patterson, claims he never expected the bill to pass:
"I mainly just wanted to stimulate discussion," he told me. "I didn't think the bill would be likely to pass, but I thought I'd put it out there and if there was any support from your profession, we'd move forward. Heck, I thought it might be helpful to legitimate journalists," he said.

Indeed, he made some valid points. "There are fewer legitimate reporters who cover the legislature all the time. I see stuff being written by people I never heard of, and I don't know whether they have any credentials.

"You have bloggers and editorial writers who write about what we are doing who never come up here and have no idea what's going on. If I need a plumber, I want one who has credentials and who is licensed by the state."
Of course, that's misleading in the extreme. First of all, it's his opinion as to whether or not there are "legitimate journalists" covering the legislature. Just because he doesn't like a journalist doesn't make him or her illegitimate. As for other regulated professions, such as plumbers, that's a totally different situation (and, of course, there are strong economic arguments for why regulating industries like plumbing are actually bad for consumers as well). Finding someone to fix your sink is not the same thing as reading someone's take on what happened in the news.

It is also important to note that the senator is not proposing preventing anyone who is not a "Michigan Registered Reporter" from writing or broadcasting the news.

"I just thought it might be helpful in terms of helping figure out whose reporting you can trust," he said. And creating a government sanctioned body, that will almost certainly be highly politicized is the best way to do that? Why not recognize that your constituents aren't idiots, and there are all sorts of methods by which they can figure out whom to trust. If there's really a strong demand for filtering out trustworthy journalists, then let a private organization give journalists a stamp of approval, rather than having the government license journalists. But, the real issue is that trust is fluid. People build up trust through their writing and reporting, and the nice thing about the online world today is that if you report stuff that is consistently inaccurate, others can call you on it and you can lose the trust of people. You don't need the government to step in and help.

Filed Under: bruce patterson, free speech, journalism, michigan, regulated press

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  1. icon
    Tek'a R (profile), 1 Jun 2010 @ 6:48am

    I am not always up-to-date on the various wastes of money that lawmakers cause, but this has to be pretty far up there.

    There is no provision for "starting a bill just to create discussion" as far as i know, no "just joking guys" motion to veto. This is a lawmaker burning public funds on a dead-end bill just to use it as a personal soapbox and an excuse to give out interviews and press conferences.

    Lets hope the people of Michigan inform the senator of what they think about waste when election time comes around.

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