Federal Judge: Bloggers Have Journalists’ First Amendment Protections


[AP] A federal appeals court in Oregon ruled Friday that bloggers, citizen journalists, and the public have the same First Amendment protections as journalists when sued for defamation, if the issue is of public concern; plaintiffs have to prove negligence to win damages.

The ruling concerns the case of a Montana blogger, Crystal Cox, who was sued by a bankruptcy trustee, Kevin Padrick, for defamation.

While the court ruled the trustee was not a public figure, they found that the issue was of public concern.

The judge in the case, Judge Andrew D Hurwitz wrote that they should have instructed the jury that “that it could not find Cox liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently. We hold that liability for a defamatory blog post involving a matter of public concern cannot be imposed without proof of fault and actual damages.”

This means that Standards set by a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., apply to everyone, not just journalists.

This is a great ruling for bloggers, citizens journalists and bloggers. It is no longer the special right of the news media.

Cox acted as her own attorney but UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh read about her case and offered to represent her in an appeal. Volokh said such cases usually end up settled without trial, and it was rare for one to reach the federal appeals court level.

“It makes clear that bloggers have the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists,” he said.

Unfortunately, the case itself is not sympathetic. Ms. Cox, who calls herself an investigative reporter, makes claims, mostly her own opinion, and allegedly offers to remove the comments for a fee of $2500.

There are good and bad bloggers as there are good and bad journalists. We are all still entitled to our First Amendment rights.

There was one issue of fact, not opinion, that was proven incorrect and supported Mr. Padrick. Ms. Cox lost the first case because she is “not a journalist” according to the judge who heard the case.

Mr. Padrick is considering an appeal.

Crystal Cox

Crystal Cox, investigative blogger

Last September, Dianne Feinstein wrote an amendment aimed at eliminating certain free speech rights for bloggers. She wants to regulate free speech with an amendment to the Free Flow of Information Act. Don’t be fooled by the title. It means the exact opposite. They don’t want free flow of information.  The Amendment is currently sitting in committee.

Feinstein wants to define who a real reporter is and who gets the protection of the Shield Act. She doesn’t want bloggers to have free speech.

The Amendment defines a “covered journalist” as someone who gathers and reports news for “an entity or service that disseminates news and information.” The definition includes freelancers, part-timers and student journalists, and it permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any “legitimate news-gathering activities.”

She says bloggers and terrorists are not to be covered by the Shield laws.

According to her, you are only a legitimate journalist if you on her list of news services.

“I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege …” she said. The special privilege she is talking about is the First Amendment.

Check out her bill to limit free press here

via Independent Journal


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