Alabama lawmaker introduces bill to make assaulting a journalist a felony in state

The following article was published in the Selma Times Journal on April 9 by reporter Adam Powell, who is also SPJ Alabama president. SizingUpTheSouth.com was granted permission to reproduce it on its website. Photo above is Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma. (Selma Times Journal photo)

SELMA, ALA. —- A new bill from Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D – Selma, is aimed at protecting journalists by making assault on a member of the 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 Istanbul inspired Chestnut to bring forth legislation, which he believes is paramount in protecting the First Amendment. Right: Jamal Khashoggi, Wiki photo

“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.”

Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut

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.

Alabama HB321 uses a broad stroke in identifying what constitutes a journalist, noting that “any person who is an employee, or 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 information service, whether it is distributed digitally or otherwise, news program, magazine, or other periodical, whether in print, electronic, or other format, or through television broadcast, radio broadcast, multi-channel 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 matters of public interest.”

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

Adam Powell is a reporter for the Selma Times Journal and is president of the new SPJ Alabama. For more information about the new SPJ Alabama chapter contact Adam at adam.powell@selmatimesjournal.com

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