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Congress Shields Bloggers

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to extend journalists’ legal shield for protecting their sources to advertising-supported bloggers. CNET reports today that after hours of debating the bill, a voice vote in the House indicated clear support for the measure, despite the Bush administration’s opposition. The bill itself has been before Congress for over two months.

I’m impressed that at least one house of Congress has taken a step toward seeing bloggers as legitimate news sources. But why only advertising-supported bloggers? There are a few arguments on both sides of that issue:

  • Advertising-supported bloggers are more likely to earn a livelihood from reporting the news, and thus have more of a stake in ensuring that they’re seen as trustworthy to their sources—they’re essentially just like a newspaper reporter in that way.
  • Establishing a minimal standard means that people can’t just throw up a blog simply to avoid having to testify about information they’ve received, according to one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA).
  • As Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA; Can you believe it, Law & Order fans?! A rep named Adam Schiff!) points out, however, the bill’s financial gain requirement is too low. He states that anyone “could start a blog and request advertising on that blog, and whether they get it or not, would be considered a journalist under this bill.” Presumably, the requirement could be met by programs\ including programs like Text Link Ads and AdSense.

If passed, immunity under this federal law wouldn’t be absolute, but opposition to the bill contends that it will interfere with criminal investigations. The shield law does include some exceptions, including for terrorism-related cases.

What do you think? Do bloggers deserve—or even need—the protection afforded by a shield law?

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    I guess it’s a good move for those that do consider themselves online journalists – such as us.

    Like any new law – they’ll likely leave it to the judges to interpret whether a site that simply solicits advertisers is equal to those that do actually make a living from advertising.

  • Pingback: links for 2007-08-02 « Kevin Bondelli’s YD Blog

  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    I think this has to be seen as a step in the right direction. Most bloggers probably won’t need the protection, but there are certainly some that do and they deserve the protection.

    A minimum standard does seem fair, though basing it on advertising probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

    It’s a step.

  • http://www.seorefugee.com/seoblog SEO Refugee Blog

    Wow, that’s a pretty big step in the right direction. IMO there should be some sort of credentials or something that are required but that bloggers should definitely be viewed the same as journalists.

    IIRC, there’s a certain certification people have to go through or obtain to be considered journalists and thus gain the protection. Something similar for bloggers would be reasonable. I just don’t think ad-supported is the right way to go with it.

  • http://www.designsfromnature.com Designs Man

    It’s all about big brother trying to suppress freedom of speech. However, I do support laws for prevent false rumor etc.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Um, actually, it’s the government protecting journalists and bloggers from itself…

  • http://www.solarwaterheateramerica.com Larry

    It is interesting to watch the Democratic congress bring its point of view to congress after the past few years of Republican lead measures.

  • http://trolltalk.com Hudson

    Consumer Reports isn’t advertising-supported. Would anyone claim that their online edition isn’t “real reporting?”

    “limited … to advertising-supported bloggers” – this is a violation of the 1st Amendment: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment01/

    “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;” – if only advertising-supported bloggers enjoy the shield, they *have* passed a law that “abridges the freedom of speech” by granting less protection, and hence less freedom, to non-advertising-supported blogs.

    They have also similarly abridged this same amemdment because sources are less likely talk to a blogger who doesn’t have this level of protection.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Hudson—I disagree. The law could have excluded all bloggers. Consumer Reports hardly counts—their subscription service probably meets the financial gain standard.

    To the contrary, the law is designed to bring more protection to bloggers who can pass as legitimate journalists. The only protection it provides, however, is not to be forced to reveal your sources if they have requested anonymity.

    I’m having a hard time thinking of a blog that someone would want to anonymously reveal sensitive information to that doesn’t make any money whatsoever.

    Thank you for providing a link to the First Amendment; I taught a college course on the Constitution for two years, so I’m quite familiar with the document. The law doesn’t infringe on bloggers’ rights to print something. They can print whatever they like. So it’s quite in holding with the First Amendment.

    If a blogger who makes no money whatsoever from his or her blog can’t find a source that is willing to have his or her name revealed should their comments result in legal action, it’s not a law’s fault.

  • http://www.tjdit.cn Avery

    It is only politics.