Monday, March 07, 2005

Intrepid Girl-Blogger On the Scene!

The issue of whether bloggers are members of the press is whirling around the blogosphere. Laura M. at Apartment 11D makes a common, but flawed argument.
Bloggers want the same First Amendment protections that reporters enjoy.

Bloggers should have the right to protect their sources without fear of prosecution.
In the physical world, being labeled a journalist may confer little prestige and may even evoke some contempt. But being a journalist can also confer certain privileges, like the right to keep sources confidential. And for that reason many bloggers, a scrappy legion of online commentators and pundits, would like to be considered reporters, too.
. . .
However, this is a double edged sword. Along with formal protections must come certain responsibilities.

Yes, reporters do enjoy many protections, but they also have many legal and ethical restrictions that freedom-loving bloggers might hate.

Do bloggers want to be open to slander and libel cases? Not only would the political bloggers be at risk, but all the personal bloggers who blog about their neighbors and family. Thousands of mothers-in-laws could open up cases in court against bloggers with a poison keyboard.
Bloggers are already open to prosecution for slander and libel. This is not an offense exclusive to journalists.
The FEC monitors their actions. I'm not eager to curtail my potty mouth. I'm not sure that would make Wonkette too happy either.
The FEC monitors everyone’s actions, although the regulations differ for members of the press. Hustler and Playboy are members of the press, too. They haven’t been shut down, so I think Wonkette is safe for now.
Reporters have a code of ethics. The right of response. If one is discussed in an article, the reporter has the responsibility to get a statement from that person or his staff. Errors must be corrected immediately and publicly. It is debatable how well traditional news sources hold to these ethics, but they exist nonetheless.
Regardless of what journalistic ethics say, the press is not required to provide an opportunity for response. In fact, such a requirement would violate the First Amendment. See Miami Herald v. Tornillo.
For bloggers to receive equal protection under the First Amendment as reporters, then there must be a commonly agreed upon code of ethics for our behavior.
This is incorrect. The First Amendment is not contingent on whether the press is confined by canons of professional ethics. To the extent that those canons affect the content of speech, incorporating them into the law would likely be unconstitutional. Bloggers are protected by freedom of the press just as solitary leafleters or authors of books.

I'd be interested in what my journalism savvy pal has to say about this.
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