Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"On free speech and blogging: The First Amendment applies to everyone, not just journalists"

"An appeals court has struck a blow for free speech and freedom of the press by ruling that First Amendment protection should be available to bloggers, regardless of whether they fit the definition of who qualifies as a journalist."

"When Montana blogger Crystal Cox lost her defamation case in 2011, the decision was greeted by a chorus of cheers from journalists, who were quick to argue that Cox wasn’t a journalist in any real sense of the word, and therefore didn’t deserve any protection from the First Amendment. An appeals court for the Ninth Circuit has disagreed, however: on Friday, a panel of judges overturned the original decision and said that Cox was in fact entitled to protection.

The implications of this ruling go beyond just a single defamation case. It’s another link in a chain of decisions that are gradually helping to extend the principle of free-speech protection beyond professional journalism to anyone who is publishing information with public value — and as such, it helps shift the focus away from trying to define who is a journalist and puts it where it should be: on protecting the practice of journalism, broadly defined.

Legislators who have been trying to design a “shield law” for journalists have been doing their best to specify who should be protected from government interference, but as journalism professor Jay Rosen and others have argued, it is the content itself that requires protecting, not some specific group of professional journalists who are able to fill in the correct checkboxes."

"The First Amendment question was crucial to Cox’s case because under U.S. law, journalists are held to a higher standard when it comes to defamation, in the sense that an accuser has to show negligence — in other words, that the accused deliberately printed something they knew was false — and also has to prove damages. The original trial judge decided that Cox wasn’t entitled to this higher standard of protection because she didn’t meet his test for who qualifies as a professional journalist. As he described it:"

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