2009-09-29 shield-law amendment excludes unpaid bloggers

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<hide> <let name=data index=Date>2009-09-29</let> <let name=data index=Author>Pam Spaulding</let> <let name=data index=Source>Pam's House Blend</let> <let name=data index=Topics>\Chuck Schumer\war on the internet\citizen journalism\citizen disempowerment\blogging\mainstream media</let> <let name=data index=URL>http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/13237/hanging-citizen-journalists-out-to-dry-shieldlaw-amendment-excludes-unpaid-bloggers</let> <let name=data index=Title>Hanging citizen journalists out to dry - shield-law amendment excludes unpaid bloggers</let> <let name=data index=TitlePlain>shield-law amendment excludes unpaid bloggers</let>

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This may seem like a little inside baseball, but bear with me, because it will directly affect some of your favorite blogs.

Here at the Blend we have inboxes overflowing with emails asking us to cover this story or that event -- from advocacy organizations, tips from readers, PR firms, and the news media. It's pretty clear that the equality rights movement is highly dependent on blogs and citizen journalism to analyze, report and advocate in the unique way that we do.

Many of these LGBT-based blogs are done as a labor of love because there's certainly not enough money out there to quit our day jobs. Bloggers like myself, who subsidize the site with an unrelated day job are about to get a big F-You from Chuck Schumer if the roof isn't raised. Ad revenue is irrelevant here, btw; you have to be employed by an entity to be covered.

A recent amendment to the federal shield bill being considered in the Senate will exclude non-"salaried" journalists and bloggers from the proposed law's protections.

The law, called the Free Flow of Information Act, is intended to prevent journalists from being forced to divulge confidential sources, except in cases such as witnessing crimes or acts of terrorism.

Well, read the fine print to see how citizen journalists are left legally hanging out to dry. Schumer's amendment draws a distinct line between bloggers and "real journalists" that:

limits the definition of a journalist to one who "obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity-

a. that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means; and
b. that-
1. publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
2. operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
3. operates a programming service; or
4. operates a news agency or wire service."

So there's no doubt that independent bloggers are the target here. At once we're considered irrelevant and so dangerous they have to legislatively set up a slippery slope that can land us in the clink or left penniless just for trying to participate in citizen journalism. Wow. The real issue here, however, is less the shield law than placing a definition of what is a journalist on the books. That will alllow pols, news outlets, state governments, etc. to deny citizen journalists press access because they are not "journalists" as defined by federal law.

Updates:

  • 2009-10-30 Senators Specter and Schumer revise shield law to include citizen journalists/bloggers "Well that language has just been changed, according to Specter's office, via this press release..."; the bill now "[removes] the requirement that the journalist be a salaried employee or independent contractor for a media organization. This should permit freelance authors to be covered, and it also provides the potential for journalists publishing on blogs to be covered as well."

Points to consider (prior to update):

  • The actual text of the bill does not seem to contain the quoted text. (Was that clause taken out due to outcry from the blogosphere, or was it never really there?)
  • The link given in the original source (a Wall Street Journal blog) does not work -- due to the temporary nature of many links on THOMAS (why do I, amateur researcher, know about this and a pro WSJ blogger does not?), so it is not possible to verify where that text came from.
  • Apparently this bill was introduced as long ago as 2005; is it any more likely to pass now than it did then? Is it moving upward or downward in votes? Definitely something to watch, either way, until it is very, very dead.

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<let name=data index=TextShort>The Free Flow of Information Act is intended to prevent journalists from being forced to divulge confidential sources, except in cases such as witnessing crimes or acts of terrorism -- but specifically excludes citizen journalists (aka bloggers) from being considered as "journalists", and would enshrine this definition in federal law.</let> </hide><if not flag=$including><let name=docat val=1 /><call ShowLinkData /></if>