A license to write?

We, like most people in the news industry, are concerned about its future. And we’re interested to hear ideas that could help.

Be we are frankly very skeptical about proposals to have the government contribute money to keep troubled newspapers afloat.

And we’re downright appalled by the notion that the government should license journalists.

There’s no better way to curb journalists’ role as government watchdogs than to say they must have their licenses renewed by that very same government.

These ideas were offered last week by a brand-new member of the Oabma administration, although there is no indication that the president or anyone in the upper echelons of his administration is seriously considering them.

We hope they never do.

The ideas came from Rosa Brooks, who was recently named as an adviser to the Pentagon.

But Brooks, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, has also been a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She suggested the government fixes for journalism in her parting column this month.

“Years of foolish policies have left us with a choice,” she wrote. “We can bail out journalism, using tax dollars and granting licenses in ways that encourage robust and independent reporting and commentary, or we can watch, wringing our hands, as more and more top journalists are laid off.”

But journalists who work for organizations that receive government funding, and who are licensed by the government, would be anything but independent.

Moreover, there is the question of who should be able to apply for a journalist’s license. Do you need a degree from an accredited university? A graduate degree? What about all the citizen journalists who have appeared with the Internet? Most simply express their opinions, based on the reporting of others. But a few do serious news gathering. Would they be barred from covering government events if they didn’t have appropriate licenses?

The First Amendment says nothing about government licenses or any other form of accreditation in outlining freedom of the press. In fact, one could argue that by requiring a license, Congress would be making a law abridging the freedom of the press, in direct contradiction of the First Amendment.

We don’t believe Brooks’ suggestion will go far at all. But the fact that it is being brought up by a respected columnist and now member of the Obama administration will give it some legs.

But the fact is, in this country, one should never need a license to write and convey your thoughts to others, especially if you’re writing about the government.


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