No Protection For Bloggers In Possible Law?

Congress is mulling a federal shield law that would help journalists protect the confidentiality of their sources, but the measure might leave out many bloggers, freelancers, citizen journalists and others who don't work in the media business full time.

The House version of the bill would only apply to people who glean significant revenue from journalism, though a broader bill in the Senate would cover anyone "engaged in journalism," the Citizen Media Law Project reports.

Many people in the media world would welcome a federal shield law, but there's no good reason for it to involve some sort of income test. While it's not clear that differentiating between "professional" and "citizen" journalists would have ever been useful in deciding which sources are worthy of protection, it seems especially arbitrary given that anyone with a cell phone can now break news on the Web.

Most states currently have shield laws and at least some courts have already ruled that those laws apply to bloggers. In one well-publicized case, a court in California ruled that three bloggers who wrote about Apple were allowed to preserve their sources' anonymity. "The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here," the California appellate court wrote in that case. "We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news."

3 comments about "No Protection For Bloggers In Possible Law?".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, February 25, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    Congress may pass a law that leaves out bloggers, freelancers, citizen journalists and others. And then the law may be ruled unconstitutional (I love how our system can work). Congress has not been granted the right to define what the press is or what a journalist is. Those institutions exist specifically to hold institutions like Congress to account.

    Likewise, however, the press themselves hold no special right to determine who among them are legitimate and who are not. Those organizations seeking coverage curry favor with media outlets because of the potential benefits that can be provided. But, there is no rule stating that the New York Knicks or any sports team has to give a front row seat in the press box to The New York Times. The Knicks do it because they want to be written about (at least they want their games to be written about).

    If I ran a newspaper, I'd also think hard about that "glean significant revenue" phrase. "Lose significant revenue" might be more like it.

    Jonathan Hutter - Portland, ME

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 25, 2009 at 5:05 p.m.

    Before anyone gets uptight, he/she should spend some time in law enforcement and see criminals and victims up close and personal. Information is key to apprehension and conviction. Is there going to be different protection for those involved with a crime and those who are not? How is that going to be determined and when that determination will take place? You can all add more specifics that will be impossible to sum up in a law. A sponsored reporter/journalist being paid for their story regardless of the topic to be protected from revealing sources will become clearer when discussing this law in more depth.

  3. Chuck Lantz from, network, February 25, 2009 at 9:23 p.m.

    One possible benefit of this law, or at least of the debate leading up to final action on the law, could be that we finally discover a working, contemporary, definition of the word "journalist".

    At this point, I can see little difference between opinions published online in a blog, or scribbling those opinions on a flyer, and stapling it to a telephone pole. The only real difference between the two is the scope of such "publications", which in the latter example would mean lots more staples, flyers and trips to telephone poles in order to equal a blogster hitting "Enter" on a keyboard.

    Neither method guarantees that journalistic ethics were employed in writing the opinions being published, and neither requires that the writers of those opinions have enough respect from their peers to earn a living publishing them.

    On the other hand, why should published opinions require payment from a third party to make those opinions valid? I doubt that James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay received many residual checks in the mail for the Federalist papers, which in their original form, were closer to the "staples and pole" example than they were to internet blogs.

    Whatever the legislators pondering this law decide, they had better get it right, since those who fall outside the final law's protection will be spending both time (in jail) and money (for lawyers) to defend their right to publish their opinions, of both the stapled and blogged varieties.

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