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WE ARE JOURNALISTS, TOO

The U.S. Ninth Circuit court of appeals issued a ruling earlier this month likely to have far-reaching implications on new media.

In addressing a defamation case brought against a blogger, the court ruled that websites like this one enjoy the same constitutional protections as newspapers and other media outlets when it comes to the content they publish.

“What First Amendment protections are afforded a blogger sued for defamation?” the court asked. “We hold that liability for a defamatory blog post involving a matter of public concern cannot be imposed without proof of fault and actual damages.”

In other words, blog posts (like newspaper articles) will be held to the same “actual malice” standard first articulated in the court’s landmark 1964 Times v. Sullivan ruling.  Which means blog posts can only be found libelous or defamatory if the author had a priori “knowledge that the information was false” or published the information “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

To prove that the court must go inside the mind of the defendant … a next-to-impossible task.

For bloggers, here’s the critical section of the ruling …

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable.

Translation?

Be afraid … be very afraid.