Jim Zachary

The U.S. Constitution.

The Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment.

Recommended reading for state Rep. Andy Welch of McDonough. Welch represents District 110, which includes parts of Henry, Newton and Butts counties.

Welch is off the rails.

He and his five Republican conspirators want to regulate the press.

It is impossible to think of any kind of legislation a state lawmaker could sponsor that would be more un-American, undemocratic and unconstitutional.

An open, free and unfettered press is a core tenet of democracy and the most basic American freedom.

House Bill 734, dropped by Welch on the last day of the legislative session, calls for a regulatory board to oversee the practice of journalism in Georgia.

And, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution article published April 2, “If approved, the bill would also mandate that anyone interviewed by the media would be able to request and receive copies of photographs and audio and video recordings taken by reporters and photographers. Such copies would have to be provided free of cost, even though state and local governments are allowed to charge the public for copies of any documents it provides. If a media outlet refuses to provide the copies, it would be subject to a lawsuit and a civil penalty, under the bill.”

Welch wants to create an official state code of ethics for the media, set up an accreditation system and a process for investigating journalists and media companies.

The media is often the only public watchdog to hold government in check and has a long tradition as the Fourth Estate, holding our governors accountable.

Welch wants to reverse that role and have the government hold the media in check, especially when he does not like the reporting.

This myopic piece of legislation appears to be personal with Welch and an overreaction to reporting that he did not like. The next time he gets bad service in a restaurant is he going to introduce a bill to regulate servers in Georgia?

Thomas Jefferson did not always like what the newspapers reported.

Still, he wrote in a letter to Edward Carrington in 1787 “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

To make it easy for you, so you don’t have to look it up, Rep. Welch, here is the text of The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Welch wants to abridge the rights of the free press in Georgia.

Whether it is the U.S. Congress or the Georgia General Assembly, the very notion of a government regulated press is simply un-American, undemocratic, unconstitutional and unthinkable.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas newspapers and editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. He is the vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and can be reached at jzachary@cnhi.com.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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