Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Blogger as Media

A federal district court judge in Oregon has just held that a blogger is not a member of the "media", at least if she is not affiliated with a more "traditional" media source such as a newspaper or television station. The case involved a defamation suit against a blogger, Crystal Cox, who had posted allegedly false information about a corporation. She attempted to defend herself by invoking a media shield law which would have protected her from divulging her sources. The court held that
although defendant is a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" and defines herself as "media," the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.

Cox represented herself in court, which is nearly always a bad decision, and she so far is indicating she'll represent herself on appeal, which is even worse.

The decision itself strikes me as wrongheaded on a host of levels, being in accord neither with what I understand to be the original understanding of what "media" is, nor the animating values that cause us to provide media actors with enhanced protections. This is demonstrated by the courts' own list of archetypical media outlets -- how does one "affiliate" with a "pamphlet"? Pamphlets, of course, were a key aspect of public communication at the time of the founding, and they bear much in common with modern blogs -- they were produced individually, with varying degrees of professionalism, and were circulated organically and haphazardly. Their status as "media" stems not because they approximate newspapers, but because they are opining to the public about public affairs in an intentionally public manner.

Indeed, the court's list doesn't really articulate a standard for when something is media or not -- it simply gives a list of entities which assuredly are media, finds that Cox isn't a part of any, and thus assumes she isn't. That doesn't provide any real basis for adjudicating future cases. What it does do is sharply limit "media" to mostly corporate actors -- businesses and institutions that can afford to set up large printing presses or television networks. This is sharply contrary to the democratic understanding of "media" present throughout our nation's history, which allowed for and encouraged mass participation in the conversation.

Hopefully Cox can be persuaded to attain counsel or, at the very least, some public interest organizations can intervene to make sure this issue is argued fully.

UPDATE: An important update to this story.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Between this and Colbert's FEC antics in applying for the media exemption, it seems that this issue is going to have to be addressed at some point. I've argued before that being "press" needs to count as an action (i.e. someone is press when engaged in press-ike activites), rather than a status. I, too hope someone like the Reporters' Committee takes this case on and wins it.