"The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist"

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a blogger shouldn’t be treated any differently from a traditional journalist in a defamation case.

“The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story,” wrote Judge Andrew Hurwitz. “As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable.”

This is an important ruling given the efforts by government – most notably Congress, last year – to define what a journalist is and, through that definition, exclude from legal protections people who may not be journalists by avocation but commit the act of journalism.

“It’s scary to think of the government as the final arbiter of what separates a real journalist from a fake one,” wrote Steven Greenhut for Reason back in July. ” It’s typical of government to want to put everything in a box, which makes it so much easier to control, regulate and subsidize (just another way to control it).  One of the big problems with the herd journalism often practiced in White House press corps or among those journalists “embedded” with the military, is that they curry favor with government officials lest they lose their access to information.”

The internet is a mixed bag of good and bad, but one of the very good aspects is the democratization of media. Anyone who files an open records request and publishes the documents, anyone who live tweets their local city council meeting or even someone who writes about the affairs of state on their blog is committing an act of journalism.
Granted, these acts have varying levels of value depending on your subjective point of view, but they’re all constitutionally protected.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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