Sunday, March 8, 2009

Court clucks

Do bloggers have the same rights as a journalist in the MSM? Can the blogger be forced to hand over his notes and sources or identify people who post anonymously on the blog?
Public Citizen, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia say YES, the blogger enjoys the same rights, and NO, the blogger cannot be forced to reveal sources or the identity of posters. The three organizations filed suit on March 6 to back up those views.
The case involves Waldo Jaquith whose blog,, commented about a defamation lawsuit filed against The HooK by Thomas Garrett, a local author and "Hollywood publicist." Garrett then subpoenaed Jaquith and seeking information about anyone who posted on, or even visited, the blog entry. He also demanded any other information Jaquith had relating to the story.
The lawsuit argues that the United States Constitution protects the freedom of expression of a solitary individual on the courthouse steps just as it does for newspapers or other MSM. Paul Levy of Public Citizen noted: 
Bloggers such as Jaquith may not be 'traditional' journalists, but they play an integral part in the way people get their news today."
The brief also argues that the First Amendment protects anonymous comments. Kent Willis of the ACLU of Virginia summed it up nicely:
"If this subpoena is allowed to stand, bloggers will have to look over their shoulders whenever they express their opinions on a pending lawsuit. The chilling effect on free speech on the Internet could be devastating."
The world of the media is changing - traditional print newspapers are shrinking or totally stopping the presses. Increasingly Americans get news online at blogs or websites of traditional media sources. A blog can be a simple personal diary with infrequent postings and few visitors. Or, it can have multiple daily postings with hard news (often missed in the MSM) and riveting opinion. Some better known blogs rival the readership of many newspapers. Even small town newspapers have an online edition with a blog. This new citizen-journalism deserves the same constitutional protections as The Recorder, which serves Bath and Highland counties, or the New York Times which serves the world. Our democracy demands it!

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