Friday, August 15, 2008

Blogs, Bloggers and The Law

There have been numerous instances of bloggers getting into legal tangles: some have ended up behind bars for expressing their opinions on weblogs. As we progress farther into digital delivery of news and commentary, we'll likely see more scrapes involving citizen journalists.

How do YOU feel about the legal rights extended (or not) to bloggers where you live? In the United States, Canada and Mexico, bloggers have a relative degree of freedom to write what they please. Times are tougher for Chinese bloggers. Chinese citizen reporter Zhou “Zuola” Shuguang tweeted his own detention as it happened Wednesday afternoon China time. Global Voices' John Kennedy has been following the story (and Zuola via Twitter) and has posted an article with updates. [Click..::HeRe::..] Singaporean bloggers XiaXue and Miss Izzy once in awhile skate on some really thin legal ice (regular of this blog are quite familiar with their exploits and ordeals) but nevertheless have managed to push the envelope of what's acceptable to new limits, and for that I applaud them!
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New York State's shield law now protects professional reporters for newspapers, magazines, news services, radio and television. Friday afternoon I conducted a telephone interview with Senator Thomas Duane, a Manhattan Democrat, who has proposed legislation that would protect bloggers from contempt-of-court charges for refusing to disclose confidential information or sources. He told me he was alarmed by a Bronx grand jury subpoena issued earlier this year to the "Room 8" blog in an attempt to identify its anonymous posters. The subpoena, which was later withdrawn, threatened the bloggers with jail time if they revealed its existence.

Duane may be onto something, but his law may fall short. It doesn't protect "citizen journalist-bloggers" and may not extend beyond reporter-blogs that fall under their employer's umbrella. The electronic frontier is akin to the "wild west" of old: laws have to be made up as we go along.

The American public has a right to know, and the government should not be allowed to intimidate, muzzle or filter information provided by the journalists and citizen journalists who furnish us with the truth.

Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance, issued the following statement concerning the Texas Ethics Commission’s recently distributed recommendation concerning blogs:

“Regulating Texas blogs would be regulation with out representation. Regulation that doesn’t protect the rights of citizens is not good government.

For a state agency that twice ruled it was appropriate for a trustee of the Texas Employee Retirement System to disclose a monetary gift from swiftboater Bob Perry as simply a “check,” to suggest that blogs should be subject to regulation is absurd.

Blogs are a form of political communication that should, by and large, remain unregulated. Independent citizen journalists and bloggers perform a valuable function in the political arena by prompting and promoting political discourse–on both sides of the aisle.

Other Keyboards:
Laws for Blogs
Proposed Reporters’ Shield Law Overdue but Underpowered
Time for the Shield
Media shield measure stalls in the Senate

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