The “Ethics in Journalism Act” sponsored by Republican members of Georgia’s state legislature is troubling both for what it proposes and what it confirms.
It calls for the creation of a Journalism Ethics Board with its origins vested in the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
The USG has been a frequent source of corruption scandals and its current Chancellor, Steve Wrigley, once bragged in an email about being able to go over the head of a newspaper editor.
Once created, the Journalism Ethics Commission would be housed in and administered by the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal once spoke at Grady in a Trump-like speech about the power of new media: “There’s no group of editors or news directors who can prevent me from communicating directly with a mass audience”
It suggested Deal believed journalists should push his preferred message or lose access.
While causing some concern by journalists, many did just that throughout Deal’s remaining years in office.
This proposed State Journalism Commission is just the most recent in a long line of attempts by Georgia politicians to control its media.
In 2012 state-run Georgia Public Broadcasting agreed to hire Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers for a $150,000 job on the urging of Gov. Deal:
At the same time, a secret, backroom deal was launched to give GPB daytime control of an iconic college radio station in Atlanta.
Students were never included in the process but were asked to fund an expensive new transmitter.
This 2nd NPR affiliate now directly competes with Atlanta’s independent public radio station WABE which receives no state funding.
While all these moves caused some professional hand wringing from media figures and significant public protest surrounding the theft of WRAS, the politicians and players involved suffered no serious consequences.
AJC journalists who once covered cronyism at GPB and openly called it state media in the banana republic sense, now appear on its programs undermining their own credibility.
Upon leaving office, Deal’s speechwriter was given regular appearances as a “Republican strategist” on both public broadcasters.
Former Democratic Congressman turned Dentons lobbyist Buddy Darden served on GPB’s Foundation Board but never spoke out about its ethical lapses. He was also a regular panelist on its new radio outlet from its sleazy inception.
Influence peddlers need a platform more than their integrity.
As for the public radio CEO that agreed to hire a state senator on the order of the Gov.? She’s still in charge, the network’s own state oversight commission being appointed by … the Gov.
Nationally, NPR and PBS did nothing and instead courted Deal.
So now, unsurprisingly, comes a further attempt by Georgia’s political class to assert control over the news with a State Journalism Commission. Even as their own State Ethics Commission continues to be a laughingstock.
Now would be a good time for journalists to start to push back. At both crooked politicians and their own unethical media executives.
More than a state commission Georgia may need unionized newsrooms.