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November 19, 2005

We The Media (Ch 10)

We the Media: Here Come the Judges (and Lawyers)

This chapter's purpose was to inform the reader how, while new media journalism is on the cutting edge technologically, legally the same laws apply. Even a blogger can potentially be sued for libel, though it is not likely. The chapter discusses media-related landmark court decisions, as well as new legislation that both supports and detracts from the "freedom" of new media journalism.

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Risky Business

Anyone in the business of publishing, whether through online or print media, must do so responsibly and with the knowledge that they can be held accountable for their publication.

"While the Net is a medium that grants great freedom, it doens't exist in a vacuum. Law applies online and off, and people who intend to practice grassroots journalism need to keep that in mind... It's important to consider some of the legal issues that have arisen in the online sphere. Libel is only one... questions include copyright, linking, jurisdiction, and liability for what others say on your site." (p.191-192)

"Online journalists are no less required to follow the law than anyone else. A blogger who commits libel may have to face the consequences."
(p.192)

Gillmor uses Matt Drudge as an example, but notes how quickly Drudge set the record straight. A major advantage of Online Journalism is the "updateability," or instant editing possibility that print journalists never had. The reader no longer has to wait for the next issue to see a correction made, and can, in the case of blogs, even point out the mistake himself. In this way, blogs "advance journalistic freedom."

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Safeguards

Since online journalists can be held just as legally accountable as print journalists, what tools do they have to defend themselves?

Gillmor includes David L. Marburger's (First Amendment Law) two major principles as well as some commentary.

1) "Anyone who writes regularly on the Net about other people or institutions should try to be insured against libel."

2) "Writers 'should keep in mind who most often sues: people whose livelihoods depend on the goodwill of the public, who depend on reputation...ie: lawyers, doctors, government officials...companies.'" (p.193)

Marburger points out that most bloggers work under editors, or have specific critics. Without this "peer review" of sorts, bloggers are less likely to catch errors, or have the incentive to publish accurate reports. In class we have acknowledged that a large portion of the students are more likely to trust a print news source. This is the reason, especially when many blogs, "tend to be more about opinion than reporting." (p.194)

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Back to Legality

Opinions or "punditry" are hard to file as libel. So earlier, when Gillmor suggested that writing online is just as vulnerable to libel laws, he meant only if that source is claiming to publish unbiased news. Does this mean that a blogger can say virtually whatever he wants as long as he does so under the flag of opinion?

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Legislation Effecting New Media

The first major legislation discussed is the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Below are the applicable sections:

SEC. 230. PROTECTION FOR PRIVATE BLOCKING AND SCREENING OF
OFFENSIVE MATERIAL.

'(a) FINDINGS- The Congress finds the following:

(1) The rapidly developing array of Internet and other
interactive computer services available to individual Americans
represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of
educational and informational resources to our citizens.
(3) The Internet and other interactive computer services
offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse,
unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad
avenues for intellectual activity.

'(b) POLICY- It is the policy of the United States--

(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that
presently exists for the Internet and other interactive
computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;
(3) to encourage the development of technologies which
maximize user control over what information is received by
individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and
other interactive computer services;

'(c) PROTECTION FOR `GOOD SAMARITAN' BLOCKING AND SCREENING OF
OFFENSIVE MATERIAL-
(1) TREATMENT OF PUBLISHER OR SPEAKER- No provider or user
of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the
publisher or speaker of any information provided by another
information content provider.

Part C essentially means that if someone posts something libelious on another's blog as a comment, the owner of the blog cannot be prosecuted. I think that this section answers one of the questions from a previous class about the accountablity of Hosting Organizations. We were discussing how Hosting Organizations have the right to eliminate any one of their clients sites without warning, but I think that this means they can't be held accountable either. Of course, this act only applies to Hosting Org's based in the U.S.

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Matters of Jurisdiction

Because the 1996 Telecommunications Act only applies to United States, it's important to examine the policy choices foreign countries are making in regard to similar issues.

In Australia for instance, the courts have determined that their citizens, corporations, and government can sue someone who's based in the U.S. or anywhere else. They likened internet publication to actual distributed publication. "The ruling was a blow to the open nature of the internet."(p.197)

Posted by DavidDenninger at November 19, 2005 04:03 PM

Comments

Regarding opinion and "punditry"...

I don't think Gillmor was necessarily implying that bloggers or other Net users can safely publish libel as long as they do so "under the flag of opinion."

My understanding is that you can be punished for libel as long as the prosecution can prove that you published it out of "malice"; therefore, if a user publishes opinion and it ends up being an extremely hateful or harmful one, chances are he or she will be punished.

Posted by: ChrisU at November 21, 2005 10:50 AM

Good Job today, David!

Posted by: Katie Aikins at November 21, 2005 01:52 PM

David! we rocked today! You gave a great presentation david. It suits you. How did we know that the chapter you were going to present tied in with politics! it was just meant to be. I think that everyone was very intrigued with your presentation, i know i sure was. I thought you did a lot of in-depth work and that it showed!
Good job!

Posted by: Denamarie at November 28, 2005 10:07 AM

David, you did do a great job on your presentation! I think that they all flowed nicely and everything went smooth. As Dena said, your topic really suited you and it was believable that you knew what you were talking about. Awesome job!

Posted by: Andy Lonigro at November 29, 2005 02:23 PM

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