Recently there have been two big news stories linked to the relationship between blogs and the law. They mainly relate to the USA but will probably influence the way other nations treat regulation of the Internet. Firstly there’s the issue of whether bloggers should have to reveal their news sources or not, and secondly, should political blogs be regulated by the government. I’ll [hopfully] post on the second issue in the next few days.
If you didn’t know, blogging goes far beyond the confines of LiveJournal. Serious bloggers post regularly about a wide variety of subjects including current affairs, technology, the media, society, etc. The quality of their content can be comparable to what one can find in regular newspapers and magazines, albeit in an electronic format rather than on printed-paper. Two of the advantages of the so called new media are that anyone with basic technological know-how can start a blog post their views, plus the fact that internet technology enables an ongoing debate with sites like Technorati and Bloglines where bloggers can track specific subjects or replies to their postings. As always, there is a battle between the old and new media. The old say the new lacks reporting standards, the new retorting that the old has been shown to be biased in its views. It’s an interesting battle; some say it’s now over, others disagree , but that argument is not the main point of this post; how blogs are viewed in the eyes of the law is.
Journalists are protected from revealing their sources by a thing called Reporter’s Privilege, “the right not to be compelled to testify or disclose sources and information in court” as long as the journalist had “the intent to use [the] material … to disseminate information to the public and whether such intent existed at the inception of the newsgathering process”. This rule applies not only to printed media journalists but also to book authors and documentary filmmakers. From the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s site: “In December 2004, Apple filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara county against unnamed individuals who allegedly leaked information about new Apple products to several online news sites … [the] EFF moved for a protective order from the Superior Court that would invalidate the subpoenas … the Santa Clara court issued a written order denying the [EFFs] motion”. The EFF is currently appealing this last decision.
In my opinion it’s a false dichotomy to treat or classify the journalism of blogging as a seperate to that of traditional journalism. I don’t really care for the battle of words, standards or egos between the old and new medias. There are good and bad examples of both. I loathe The Sun newspaper, love The Independent. I enjoy reading many2many and Robert X. Cringley yet I understand The Blog Hearld has tabloid leanings and I avoid political blogs that are overly left or right wing orientated. The point is that both old and new provide information to the public and thus should be treated the same legally.