Ore. Media Shield Laws Don't Protect 'Investigative Blogger'

Lora Bentley

I've written about blogger liability several times in the context of the Righthaven copyright cases, but I'm pretty sure the last time I mentioned journalist shield laws was last year. They came up in discussions and debates following the iPhone prototype "leak" to a Gawker Media employee.

 

San Mateo County, Calif., sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant at the home of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen after he published pictures and details of the latest iteration of the iPhone before it had been released. Presumably they were looking for information as to who had given the prototype to Chen and the circumstances under which it was received.

 

At the time, Gawker argued that the search warrant was invalid and that the sheriff's office should have served Chen with a subpoena under California Penal Code section 1524(g) instead.

 

Media shield laws came up again this week - this time in the context of a defamation suit against a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" in Oregon. According to Ars Technica, an attorney sued Crystal Cox for defamation after she wrote posts (and even created separate websites) in which she accused his firm of misconduct and fraud in its handling of a bankruptcy.

 

Cox argued she was entitled to protection under an Oregon law that shields journalists from liability unless the person alleging defamation asks for a retraction and it is refused. The judge didn't buy it, primarily because Cox was not associated with, nor credentialed by, "any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system."


 

Moreover, he indicated that Cox was not afforded protection under the First Amendment as a journalist because, among other things:

  1. She was not educated in journalism.
  2. She had no proof of affiliation with a "recognized news entity."
  3. She did not adhere to journalistic standards (fact checking, conflicts of interest disclosure, editing).

 

It's a good reminder in this era of "citizen journalism" that we can't always say whatever we want with impunity.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 16, 2011 10:50 AM Ken Bingham Ken Bingham  says:

This decision is flat out wrong. The First Amendment Freedom of the Press clause is not about professional news organizations or News Papers. If this was the case the pamphleteres like  Thomas Paine would have not been considered journalists.  Thomas Paine was a blogger of his time and it would have been scandalous to claim he was not covered under the Freedom of the Press clause.  This decision needs to be over-turned.

To say that Freedom of the Press only applies to professional journalists and news organizations is to say Freedom of Speech only applies to professional speakers.

Reply
Dec 19, 2011 2:55 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says: in response to Ken Bingham

As a professional journalist, I agree 100 percent, Ken. Citizens should be concerned about this, too - not just bloggers.

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