Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Good article by CNet's Declan McCullagh. Good timing since I was thinking about this issue while writing my column for AlwaysOn this week... finally worked on it after sitting on my idea for six weeks.

A renewed effort in the U.S. Congress to create a federal shield law for news organizations is raising a sticky question: Who is a journalist?

A generation ago, the answer usually was clear. Not anymore. Online scribes and video publishers are experimenting with novel forms of journalism, and even the most stodgy news organizations are embracing blogs.

That leaves politicians--hardly the most clued in about all things tech--in something of a quandary. They're being lobbied by professional news organizations and the American Bar Association to approve some kind of journalist's shield law while being urged by prosecutors to leave out bloggers.

The justification for a shield law is a perfectly reasonable one. After a federal appeals court enforcedgrand jury subpoenas against The New York Times and Time magazine, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case, news organizations decided to fix the law.

The Justice Department took a swipe at the leading shield proposal (H.R.3323/S.1419) during a Senate hearing last week, arguing that it would let criminals pose as bloggers.

"As drafted, the definition invites criminals to cloak their activities under the guise" of a journalist, warned Chuck Rosenberg, a U.S. Attorney in Texas. "The definition arguably could include any person who sets up an Internet 'blog.'" (It covers anyone who publishes an electronic "periodical.")

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, seemed to be sympathetic to that argument. "The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a certain lack of accountability, as they are not your traditional brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information," Cornyn said.

Even the original sponsor of the Senate shield proposal, Richard Lugar, R-Ind., recently indicated that bloggers will "probably not" be deemed journalists.
(full article)

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