Should Online Newspaper's Comments Be Protected By Journalism Shield Laws?

from the are-they-sources? dept

Having just discussed whether or not journalism shield laws should apply to random bloggers, it’s worth noting an interesting case going on in Indiana, where the key question is whether or not such a law applies to comments on a newspaper website. The paper, the Indianapolis Star, is arguing that Indiana’s shield law protects anonymous commenters in the same way that it protects sources. After all, anonymous commenters can be sources. Of course, it may come down to the specific language in Indiana’s shield law. A more interesting question is should such laws protect anonymous commenters? I’d argue that the First Amendment should, generally speaking, protect most anonymity, so I’m not sure a specific shield law provides much more that’s useful beyond that. However, if you were definitely applying such shield laws to comments, perhaps it should just be limited to cases or individuals who actually are acting as sources (i.e., providing news) in the comments.

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Comments on “Should Online Newspaper's Comments Be Protected By Journalism Shield Laws?”

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16 Comments
Difster (profile) says:

Equal Treatment

Shield laws should either A) Protect everyone who does any sort of reporting at all or B) Be eliminated.

Just because someone works for a “recognized news source” should not give someone any extra protection under the law than some random blogger conveying information across the inter tubes.

No one should ever be compelled by law to give up a source of information. Either facts matter or they don’t.

The law needs to catch up with technology and it needs to favor liberty.

A Guy (profile) says:

Who Defines News

News is in the eye of the beholder. Any comment, any analysis, any opinion could be news to someone.

We should have strong privacy laws that allow electronic publications and users to define what privacy protections exist and how data may be shared in most circumstances.

Unfortunately, until we repeal the abortion of liberty that is the patriot act, it will remain a pipe dream.

average_joe (profile) says:

Thin “reporting” as usual, Mike.

The paper, the Indianapolis Star, is arguing that Indiana’s shield law protects anonymous commenters in the same way that it protects sources. After all, anonymous commenters can be sources. Of course, it may come down to the specific language in Indiana’s shield law.

You think? Of course the specific language of the shield law is determinative of the law’s scope. That’s obvious. Duh. Too bad you aren’t adding any actual analysis (that’s apparently too much to ask).

If you want to see what they are actually arguing, you can read their actual arguments: https://www.eff.org/files/miller_appellant_brief.pdf

Your EFF friends filed an amicus brief (I can’t believe you didn’t link/embed it!): https://www.eff.org/files/miller_amicus.pdf

I tried to find the appellee’s brief (unlike you, I like to hear both sides of the argument), but I didn’t have any luck.

A more interesting question is should such laws protect anonymous commenters? I’d argue that the First Amendment should, generally speaking, protect most anonymity, so I’m not sure a specific shield law provides much more that’s useful beyond that. However, if you were definitely applying such shield laws to comments, perhaps it should just be limited to cases or individuals who actually are acting as sources (i.e., providing news) in the comments.

So your argument is that shield laws shouldn’t cover every single comment. Well, duh. That point hardly seems worth mentioning since it’s so obvious.

I appreciate you posting the “story” because I was unaware of this case (I’m enjoying the briefs with my morning coffee), but it’s a shame you yourself don’t try a little real journalism. It’s no wonder you have 40,000+ blog posts if this is the amount of effort you put into a post.

Pixelation says:

I agree with the judge on this one. The exception I think should be for comments made by the “journalist”.
As a semi-anonymous commenter, I expect that my comments are protected speech and a court order be required to release my IP address. I don’t expect that shield laws extend to my comments. If I was looking for that I would send my comments directly to Mike and hope he quoted me. (Good luck, I know)

Anonymous Coward says:

Shield laws, to the extent they exist for journalists (and there is no uniformity among the states…some provide a privilege and some do not), are in large measure predicated on the importance of preserving the confidentiality of anonymous sources of information used by the journallist in the conduct of his/her activities.

I daresay many anonymous posts do not lie within the historical basis for why such laws were enacted in the first instance.

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