Thursday, June 3, 2010

Michigan Considers Law to Register Journalists


By Jana Winter

A Michigan lawmaker wants to register reporters to ensure they're credible and have "good moral character."  

State Sen. Bruce Patterson is introducing legislation that will regulate reporters much as the state regulates hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Patterson, who also practices constitutional law, says the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets -- traditional, online and citizen generated -- and an even greater amount of misinformation.

"Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government," he said.

He told that some reporters covering state politics don't know what they're talking about and they're working for publications he's never heard of, so he wants to install a process that'll help him and the general public figure out which reporters to trust.

"We have to be able to get good information," he said. "We have to be able to rely on the source and to understand the credentials of the source."

Critics say the proposed law will stem press freedoms and is bound to be politicized, with disgruntled politicians going after reporters who don't paint them in a positive light. They also say that adding members of the fourth estate to the list of government-regulated occupations is probably unconstitutional.

"It's misguided and it's never going to fly," said Kelly McBride, media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute. She is currently involved in a project examining the transformation of the journalism profession.

The bill was introduced on May 11 and has been referred to the Michigan legislature's Committee on Economic Development and Regulatory Reform.  

"It's a single sponsor bill. I think that says it all," said Mike MacLaren, executive director of the Michigan Press Association.

"I've not talked to the senator about this but whenever you see a single sponsor it's usually indicative of what others think of it, which is not much."

According to the bill, reporters who register will have to pay an application and registration fee and provide a "Board of Michigan Registered Reporters" with proof of:

-- "Good moral character" and demonstrate they have industry "ethics standards acceptable to the board."

-- Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.

-- Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.

-- Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.

-- Three or more writing samples.

No comments: