Protecting Bloggers And Citizen Journalists

February 17, 2012 / 3:44 pm • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

Who is a journalist?

If a person with an iPhone captures a picture of Congressman in a bad situation is he a journalist? Should he be given the protection a journalist receives?

If a person digs up corruption between a major Democrat donor and the White House and posts it on some obscure blog, should he receive the protection a journalist receives?

If a journalist has his own blog and opines about the news or entertainment of the day but isn’t writing for an “official” news outlet, should he receive the protection a journalist receives?

Right now, bloggers are exposed. If a big corporation, a rich/important individual, the government or someone in power wants to harass a blogger, he simply has to sue them into compliance. Even if the powerful has no case, the lawsuit itself can put an independent journalist out of business.

Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center, an organization promoting alternate news channels, says this:

This past December, federal judge Marco Hernandez of Oregon issued a ruling in the libel trial of Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox that has dangerous First Amendment implications.

Hernandez ruled that blogger Crystal Cox was not entitled to the same protection under media shield laws that other members of the press enjoy. This ruling made it easy for a jury to find her guilty of libel. That result threatens the First Amendment rights of all citizen-journalists.

With the Internet increasingly serving as the dominant source of information, a national debate has been taking place asking the question, who is a journalist? Legal scholars, journalism academics and First Amendment advocates all have their opinions and as expected, there is little agreement.

But why is this issue so complicated? Bloggers, like all citizens of the United States, have First Amendment rights. Has the definition of a journalist changed? Or has perception and therefore legal definition simply not adjusted to modern technology?

This case disturbs me as a blogger. I’ve had sources feed me stories–nearly every blogger has sources. There should be shield law protection. Period.

Bloggers, journalists, and all citizens need to join to push Congress and the courts to recognize a citizen’s right to report and be protected when he does. Sign up here.

Maggie Thurber reports more on the citizen journalist front. As the internet becomes the only place people find and consume their news, protecting journalists, and by extension their sources and livelihoods is essential.