Court Determines that Bloggers Are Journalists, Then Screws Them Over

Illustration for article titled Court Determines that Bloggers Are Journalists, Then Screws Them Over

A New Zealand court last week found that bloggers are journalists, a belief shared by many U.S. and Canadian courts as well. This means that bloggers can legally refuse to hand over the identities of anonymous sources. It also means that courts can rob them of that right.


Top image: Gargolyle on New Zealand's High Court building in Auckland, photo by Chris Stott.

That's exactly what happened in New Zealand, where a blogger was granted the status of journalist — only to discover that he still didn't have the right to protect his sources. Over at The Conversation, Jane Johnston explains the case:

In the case of Slater v Blomfield, Justice Raynor Asher found that a blogger can be legally defined as a journalist. Likewise, a blog can be journalism, even if the work is carried out for a non-mainstream media outlet.

The definition is particularly important because it affects who the court can grant certain protections to. In Cameron Slater's case, the issue related to whether he could call himself a journalist and his website news media, and thereby claim "shield law"protection in a defamation case.

Shield laws give the courts discretion to excuse journalists from identifying a confidential source or informant. The privilege shields journalists from contempt sanctions should they refuse. Irrespective of the definition of journalist, though, judges in most jurisdictions ultimately have the power to force journalists to disclose names if in the interests of justice.

Johnston explains that the problem is that once the shield law is invoked, a judge may still determine that it cannot be used in a particular case. That's exactly what happened in Slater's case. So basically, bloggers in New Zealand now have the right to invoke the shield law, though it may not actually help them in any measurable way.

Read more at The Conversation


Dr Emilio Lizardo

So, as a non-lawyer, non-journalist, what exactly is the point of the "shield law?"