Senator: Bloggers will "probably not" be deemed journalists

Bloggers likely will not be deemed legitimate journalists who will be able to receive the coveted protections of a federal shield law, a key senator said Monday.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., told a journalism conference that Web loggers may not qualify for that privilege, according to a report on Editor & Publisher's Web site. "As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along," Lugar said, according to the report. "Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?"

Lugar is the primary sponsor of the proposed Free Flow of Information Act, which currently is worded in a way that protects anyone who "publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic form." Even that definition may help bloggers protect the confidentiality of sources -- but as Lugar suggested, it could be revised.

This isn't a new debate. Politicians are considering a federal shield law (most states already have them) in response to the now-ended imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. But it's not clear how the final version will be worded.

Exact wording matters. Last year, U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith ruled that Alabama's shield law doesn't protect Sports Illustrated because the statute mentions only newspapers and broadcasters. Trying to squeeze a magazine into that definition, Smith wrote, "strains the commonly understood meanings of those words."

Then there are other legal twists such as the California Constitution, which was raised by Apple's lawsuits. It protects anyone currently or previously employed by "a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service." (Emphasis added.) That shields sites like News.com, Salon.com, and Slate.com--typically staffed by ex-newspaper reporters--but probably doesn't help bloggers or the Apple defendants.

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About the author

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

 

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