Oklahoma Republicans have introduced a bill mandating state licensing requirements and mandatory right wing propaganda training for news outlets.
A major point by critics of the Online News Act in Canada is that that the new law would compel news outlets to be even more dependent on state funding programs. Whether that money ultimately comes from taxpayers or programs aimed at removing money from one sector and putting it into another sector, it’s the government that, at the end of the day, is writing the news organizations paychecks. That, of course, introduces considerable risk of a further decline in journalism. What’s more, such laws would be in place through multiple governments after. That means governments you might happen to like and governments that you happen to not like.
So, the question is, would government abuse their unprecedented level of power over journalism thanks to this new funding structure? Well, as we reported yesterday, the answer is already “yes” after a newspaper was bullied into silence under threat of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit and the threat of pulling funding for the outlet. As I noted in the article, this will unlikely be the last incident given that this occurred barely a month after the Online News Act came into force. Probably the surprising thing about this was how quickly an incident like this cropped up after.
One question that some might have is how the Online News Act could be abused. Well, fortunately for us, we don’t even need a theoretical situation to start counting the ways. Oklahoma lawmakers offered a pretty vivid example of how politician’s could actually abuse such laws. Senator Nathan Dahm introduced the Orwellian sounding bill, the “Common Sense Freedom of Press Control Act”. While the name in and of itself sounds creepy, the details of what the bill mandates is downright nightmarish. Here’s some of the details from the Daily Kos:
On Wednesday, Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm has proposed a bill that would require journalists to submit to drug tests, take courses in being “propaganda-free,” and get a license from the state. According to Dahm’s Senate Bill 1837, called the Common Sense Freedom of Press Control Act, “any media outlet that includes opinions at any time in its print, broadcast, or other means of distribution shall do each of the following before any articles, stories, opinions, news, videos, or other media are distributed to the public:”
Complete a criminal background check. Receive a license from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities in the state. “[C]omplete a propaganda-free safety training course of no less than eight (8) hours as prescribed by the State Department of Education, which shall be developed in coordination with PragerU,” which is a right-wing advocacy group known for distorting U.S. history and promoting climate change denial. Have liability insurance of at least $1,000,000. Submit to drug testing every quarter.
Probably the most terrifying thing about all of this is the fact that this is apparently not even a new thing. There have apparently been several attempts to push press control bills in the past:
This isn’t the first, second, or third time that conservative lawmakers have attempted to control the free press by demanding some sort of licensing requirements. In 2016, a South Carolina Republican introduced a bill that would require journalists to be registered and vetted by the state. An Indiana Republican tried to do a similar thing in 2017, arguing it was the same as licensing Second Amendment rights. And in 2023, a Florida lawmaker attempted to force bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, people in his administration, or state legislators to register with the government.
This anti-press movement has partly been led by Donald Trump, the de facto head of the GOP since around 2016. Trump has been relentlessly escalating his anti-press rhetoric for years. And yet many traditional media outlets have cut Trump slack over his dehumanizing and threatening language, thereby helping to normalize that sentiment—at least within the world of MAGA and the Republican Party.
Tim Cushing of Techdirt offered some additional thoughts on these developments:
Holy shit. We’re on the other side of reality now. “Propaganda-free safety training courses” developed by a performative “school” whose inability to comprehend the First Amendment and/or Section 230 immunity has seen it lose lawsuit after lawsuit. The Senator doesn’t want the state’s journalism to be “free” of “propaganda.” He wants it to parrot the propaganda he likes and is willing to use the government’s power to ensure this happens.
If you don’t think that set of mandates is ridiculous enough, there’s more. These are the ravings of someone who read 1984 and came to the conclusion the government didn’t punish Winston Smith enough.
The list above is just for individual journalists, whether or not they work for larger news agencies. The list of requirements for journalist entities demands $50 million in liability insurance, mandatory PragerU “propaganda” training for all employees (whether they’re journalists or not), and this fever dream of a disclaimer to be attached to anything published by journalists:
“WARNING: THIS ENTITY IS KNOWN TO PROVIDE PROPAGANDA. CONSUMING PROPAGANDA MAY BE DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH AND HEALTH OF THE REPUBLIC.”
Some might look at all of this and think that there really isn’t much of a connection between these psychotic laws and Canada. The problem here is that the Online News Act has made many of the major news outlets more dependent on government funding programs than ever before. Even worse is that these same entities are pushing for even more financial dependencies on the government through the Online Streaming Act. At the same time, it is no real secret how much the more far right extreme elements of Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative party derives inspiration from the far right movement of Trumpism in the US. The question is, if the Conservative party wins the next election, who’s to say that similar laws won’t be pushed in Canada?
Poilievre, after all, has been putting a lot of effort to discredit the media in Canada. Whether it is the long running campaign of “Defund the CBC” or attacking other outlets of being somehow part of a liberal conspiracy, the press in this country has long been considered one of the major enemies of the Conservative party. It’s not really far fetched that the Conservative party might look at pushing similar laws in Canada with the sledge hammer of threatening to remove all the funding from an organization to force compliance with far right ideology.
What’s more, it’s nothing new that toxic lawmaking has a habit of jumping boarders like an out of control wildfire. In fact, we saw that with these link tax laws in the first place where Australia more or less became known as ground zero in the fight to knee-cap the independence of the press. It spread to several European countries and even got passed in Canada to disastrous effect. This with continued ongoing efforts in the US to pass similar laws both on the federal level and at the state level via California.
These thought control bills represent a risk of the path Canada could very easily head down at a later time. It’s an extremely worrying trend in the media sector, but one that the larger press seems to be, for the time being, blindly following hoping to score free money out of the deal. I don’t think anyone can blame me for seeing some of the stuff going on in the US and being worried about the possibility of something similar happening here.