Chestnut files bill to protect journalists

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A new bill from Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, is aimed at protecting journalists by making assault on a member of the news media a felony.

Chestnut’s legislation builds on earlier legislation that protects teachers and nurses in a similar way.

The recent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul inspired Chestnut to bring forth the legislation, which he believes is paramount in protecting the First Amendment.

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“The death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, along with the recent rhetoric in our own nation, opened my eyes to the true danger that investigative journalists face,” Chestnut said. “The First Amendment is a cornerstone of our democracy and we should never make it permissible for people to assault journalists for simply doing their jobs.”

The bill already has a handful of co-sponsors, some of which are Republicans – Chestnut noted that he has worked “diligently” to make the legislation a bipartisan effort.

The bill, HB312, uses a broad stroke in identifying what constitutes a journalist, noting that “any person who is an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information by means of a newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, news agency, news website, mobile application or other news or information service, whether distributed digitally or otherwise, news program, magazine, or other periodical, whether in print, electronic, or other format, or through television broadcast, radio broadcast, multichannel video programming distributor” would be protected under the legislation.

Additionally, the bill would protect people working on a “motion picture for public showing, [who] engages in newsgathering with the primary intent to investigate events or procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national or international events or other matters of public interest.”

Chestnut’s legislation is slated to go before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday and, if it receives a favorable review, will go before the full Alabama House of Representatives later in the week.