Licensing journalists

Dear Editor:

Should professional journalists be licensed? I believe so. The honest gathering, assessment, and presentation of information about current events is indispensible in democratic societies. Citizens rely upon free and accurate information to make informed independent decisions and to choose elected officials who best represent their individual and community interests. Today there are more sources for news, but it is more difficult for news consumers to find unbiased and accurate news. Even popular traditional “newspapers of record” have had to retract or publish corrections for recent stories.

Many professionals are licensed by governmental agencies (local, state, federal) and/or professional organizations that monitor and represent the interests and integrity of the professions. The license system helps ensure that professionals are ethical, accountable and qualified, and by extension protect the public from fraud and harm. For example, people working in the following professions are required to be licensed: health care (doctors, dentists, nurses, EMTs, pharmacists), lawyers, teachers, accountants, psychologists, engineers, geologists, architects, trades (plumbers, electricians, home inspectors) and services (barbers, manicurists and real estate agents).

Free speech, including hate speech, is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Citizens can write, say, tweet, spin and publish opinions or stories about almost anything, but conscious bias and opinion should not be embedded in news reports.

Freedom of the press does not mean freedom from regulation. All media is already regulated in many ways. Media must protect citizen privacy. The Federal Communications Commission has broad jurisdiction over media responsibility. Media companies must conform to equal employment and opportunity rules and workplace safety standards. A license is another form of regulation. Professional journalists and professional news agencies should be licensed to help ensure accountable, fair, honest and unbiased gathering, assessing and presentation of stories. In this way consumers would be protected from fraudulent news reporting.

Steven Whitney

Little Deer Isle

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