Bloggers gain protection from libel
Hm. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that bloggers can’t be sued for libel over information they republish.
“One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they’re not just selling information — they’re selling reliability,” Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Wired.com. “But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren’t necessarily selling anything, they’re just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn’t exist if you were held liable for every piece of information you cut, paste and forward.”
One of the main reasons for libel law is that one-way media, like newspapers or television, often don’t give the allegedly injured party a chance to respond as prominently or as fully as the initial charges were made. The libel lawsuit allows the plaintiff to show that not only is he not a wife beater, for example, but that the _Daily Times_, which reported that he was, didn’t do squat to determine the truth. The full rebuttal can really only happen in the courtroom, and the threat of monetary judgments against media companies keeps them honest. Well, relatively so. (I’ve _greatly_ simplified libel law here, by the way.)
But blogs allow full-blown conversations, assuming a blogger has integrity and allows the wronged party to respond almost as prominently and immediately to the initial charge, either via comments or published emails. Failing that, the low barrier to entry allows the alleged wife beater to start his own blog and rebut the accusations.
Still… While I suppose it’s good news that bloggers and other e-media are protected from expensive lawsuits — and I don’t have to shell out the bucks for expensive libel insurance — I don’t know how this will play in establishing credibility for the medium. I’m of mixed feelings on this, but maybe that’s just my old media background wagging its vestigial tail.
Why? Because I think independent journalists like myself and others _are_ selling reliability. When I was overseas, I made damn sure to get it as right as I could. If I didn’t witness the events with my own eyes and if I couldn’t get it confirmed by some other media or other sources, I didn’t run it. (I still have stories that I’ve not been able to confirm.)
No, I don’t want to be sued for libel. But I don’t know that it’s a bad thing that I have to stop and think about what I write. And if people know that bloggers have to stop and think, perhaps they’ll take them a little more seriously.
Anyway, just some late-night musings. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Flame on!