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Georgia Republicans propose "Journalism Ethics Board" and fines for news outlets

A bill filed by Republicans in the Georgia House this week proposes a "Journalism Ethics Board" to oversee news coverage in the state. It also suggests fines and sanctions to punish outlets that don't comply with parts of the proposed law. 

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Andy Welch, calls for the creation of an "independent" board to make "canons and ethics" and "rules and regulations" for journalism in Georgia. The board would be housed at the University of Georgia's journalism and communications school and comprise three editors, three news producers, two digital journalists and one retired journalism professor.

The legislation says the board could investigate complaints about ethics violations, and develop a "voluntary accreditation process in journalism ethics," which would only be awarded to news organizations where every employee has accreditation. Accredited journalists and outlets could be "sanctioned" for violations, which could include "probation" and "public reprimand." 

Under the bill, interview subjects would also be able to request copies of photos, videos and audio records of them taken by members of the media, which would have to be provided for free within three business days. This is in contrast to the state's own public records laws, which say government organizations can charge people for documents they request.

A "civil penalty" of $100 a day could be levied against an organization that delays or does not respond to such a request, the bill says. Courts could also make news outlets cover attorney and litigation fees if the interview subject takes legal action. The board itself would be "immune from civil liability" for its official conduct. 

Welch, who sponsored the bill, recently complained about alleged bias from a reporter who grilled him about legislation, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He retired from the legislature on Tuesday, the same day he filed the bill, but it could still be considered in the next legislative session. Five fellow House Republicans have co-sponsored it, and Republicans have a majority in the state's House and Senate. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has not weighed in on the bill. His spokesman did not immediately return a message from CBS News.

In addition to dozens of local media outlets, Georgia is home to CNN's world headquarters, which is in Atlanta. CNN is one of President Trump's biggest media targets, and he has often suggested changing libel laws to make it easier for journalists to be sued.

The bill faced immediate blowback from Georgia's journalists. 

"So now we're going as far as ignoring the constitution and freedom of press," Ella Dorsey, a meteorologist for Atlanta's CBS affiliate, said on Twitter. "Get it together Georgia. It's time to stop going backwards." 

Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, tweeted his "full statement" about the bill: "This is a terrible idea." 

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