Editorials on whether blogs are media

December 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

A recent decision by a District Court judge that the well-known, some would say notorious, blog is not a news medium highlights the difficulty. …

In a paper on new published last year, the Law Commission observed that bloggers are often highly partisan, can be offensive and abusive and are not accountable to anybody.

The commission later modified that view to note that some of New Zealand’s 200 or more current-affairs bloggers have become a rich alternative source of information and commentary.

The Whale Oil blog run by certainly fits the commission’s first description. His commentary on a wide array of topics is heavily tendentious and often gratuitously rude.

His campaigns can also be wrong-headed, the most notable being a wildly irresponsible campaign a couple of years ago against name suppression that resulted in his incurring convictions and stiff fines.

But he also attracts more than 1 million visitors a month, more than the next five New Zealand bloggers put together and he has broken stories that have been taken up with gusto by other media.

These facts, Slater argued in the District Court recently, were sufficient to make him a journalist and his blog a news medium as defined in the Evidence Act.

He made the plea in order to be able to claim a protection provided by the act so he would not have to reveal his sources in a action that has been brought against him. The judge rejected the submission.

While Slater’s blog is miles short of what most people would think of as a responsible medium that should be entitled to the protection of the law, the decision is almost certainly wrong.

Very good of The Press to argue that blogs can qualify for media protection. An unthinkable view from them a few years ago.

The Herald editorial agrees:

Blogger Cameron Slater has been told by a Manukau District Court judge his “Whaleoil” website is not a news medium. This will surprise everybody aware of the Len Brown affair. Whaleoil broke that story and was almost alone among news media in covering the seamy details. Muckraking to that degree might not be to everyone’s taste but if anybody wants to rake it or read it, they have a right to do so. The ruling by District Court Judge Charles Blackie will not stop them but it denies Whaleoil a right asserted by all news media to protect their sources from discovery in court.

The case has nothing to do with the Brown affair. Slater is defending an action for defamation on a different subject. The judge’s ruling is important for its general application to news and comment online, and possibly for the future regulation of mainstream media too.

The ruling does have wide ramifications.

The right that Slater seeks is not particularly generous, or final. If a case goes to the High Court, news media may be forced to betray a confidential source to the judge, who will decide whether confidentiality overrides other considerations in the case. Other jurisdictions give media freedom higher protection. A blogger might not have the means to challenge this ruling in a higher court but it should not stand. News comes in many and varied forms and the courts should recognise it when they see it.

Again, very welcome to see the Herald take this view.

Maybe the Newspaper Publishers Association Media Freedom Committee could consider assisting with the appeal?

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20 Responses to “Editorials on whether blogs are media”

  1. gump (1,620 comments) says:

    Whale has been representing himself in Court.

    As the old saying goes – a man who defends himself in Court has a fool for a client

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  2. queenstfarmer (764 comments) says:

    @gump, that usually refers to a lawyer who decides to represent himself, not so much a defendant who has no choice but to be there. Otherwise, if you can’t afford – or don’t want to spend – vast amounts for a lawyer, what choice does one have?

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  3. Monique Angel (272 comments) says:

    Some of the older generations can get all butt hurt about blogs being offensive but at the end of the day it’s blogs that people go to for information while the MSM falls into a hole in the ground.

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  4. King Kong (39 comments) says:

    I am still struggling to work out what kind of news medium would write 130 different articles on a pizza franchise owner that nobody has ever heard of just because he was having a stouch with his business partners.

    Just because I bowl a couple of test class deliveries in back yard cricket doesn’t make me a test cricketer.

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  5. Monique Angel (272 comments) says:

    also, I can’t imagine Ariana Huffington wearing the judicial opinion that blogs aren’t a valid news medium.

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  6. wikiriwhis business (3,883 comments) says:

    You make news when you are reported as news. Otherwise you are simply stating opinion.

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  7. jonnobanks (148 comments) says:

    Of course these papers considers whaleoil news, otherwise where would they get their news from.

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  8. James Stephenson (2,145 comments) says:

    Since when did “offensive” become a bad thing? Offensive can be a valid and effective tool, and Cameron wields it that way more often than not.

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  9. KevinH (1,205 comments) says:

    The most notorious, vilified and highly news worthy blogger in the world at present is Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Mr Assange’ revelations have reverberated throughout the international security services community and have brought to light the covert activities of governments that spy on their citizens.
    WikiLeaks is an example of how important a role blogs play in the modern era of mass news dissemination via the internet, a medium that cannot be ignored or trivialised as partisan commentary.

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  10. Kea (12,041 comments) says:

    I wish people would put aside their personal views of Whale and focus on the important precedent being set here. This is an appalling attack on freedom of expression. If the law allows this course of action, then the law needs to change. This is simply not on.

    [Hi smart arses/Gimp. Yes I know District Courts decisions are not binding and do not set a precedent in that way.]

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  11. Nostalgia-NZ (5,097 comments) says:

    I don’t think this was covert spying by governments that spy on their citizens. It’s an argument between the owners of a pizza francize, one of whom claims to have been defamed by a ‘source’ (sauce?) not disclosed by a person who could be very fond of pizzas.

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  12. Nostalgia-NZ (5,097 comments) says:

    ‘If a case goes to the High Court, news media may be forced to betray a confidential source to the judge, who will decide whether confidentiality overrides other considerations in the case.’

    Such emotive language from the Herald. ‘forced to betray.’ It’s the Law grandma, whether it is determined that Slater is in fact in the ‘media’ or not. Granny Herald is defiant of the Law. It could indeed be off to the rest home she goes, with 2 hip hop discs and a medley by Bing Crosby with a re-hashed version of ‘I’m dreaming of a white (double mozzarella and sloppy peas) Xmas.’

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  13. Kea (12,041 comments) says:

    Sensitive souls and the pathologically self important can rest well tonight knowing that nanny state will use the force of law to protect their sensitive feelings and what they fantasize their reputation to be.

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  14. gump (1,620 comments) says:

    @Kea

    “This is an appalling attack on freedom of expression. ”

    ———————

    No it isn’t.

    Whaleoil is free to express himself in any way that he want to. The Judge has simply asked him to supply the name of the person (or persons) that provided him with electronic information relating to Matt Blomfield. This is a standard procedure and part of the usual legal discovery process.

    The hilarious thing about this situation is that Whaleoil has frequently campaigned for transparency on the basis that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Now that he has something to hide, he wishes to avoid public scrutiny. Does he believe that transparency is something that only applies to other people?

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  15. Kea (12,041 comments) says:

    Gimp, who gives a fuck who “wants” what. They should mind their own business. It may be law but it is not justice and it is not right. If it were one of your vile little lefty mates in the hot seat you would get my point far more easily.

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  16. gump (1,620 comments) says:

    @Kea

    “If it were one of your vile little lefty mates in the hot seat you would get my point far more easily.”

    ————————–

    I voted for National/Act in the last three General elections (I live in the Epsom electorate).

    I’d appreciate you telling me who you think are my “vile little lefty mates” ??

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  17. itstricky (1,772 comments) says:

    I am still struggling to work out what kind of news medium would write 130 different articles on a pizza franchise owner that nobody has ever heard of just because he was having a stouch with his business partners.

    Because it’s all personal to him. And that why it is *not* a news medium.

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  18. Paulus (2,602 comments) says:

    Surely if the Judges decision is upheld then we might be able to find out from where Vance got her information of the Kitteridge Report. I am still not sure it was Dunne. Winston perhaps.
    Fairfax would be upset.

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  19. Kea (12,041 comments) says:

    gump, you struggle with the concept of principles.

    You stated that the government should act agains those inciting violence. When I tested your comitment to that principle (by giving an example of inciting war and violence against a tyrant) you instantly invoked special pleading for your preferred group.

    The only principle I can deduct from your efforts is that your preferred group should be extended rights beyond that afforded to others.

    This is not about the side each of us prefer or the rights and wrongs of a specific case. It is about establishing principles that can be broadly applied to all.

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  20. gump (1,620 comments) says:

    @kea

    “gump, you struggle with the concept of principles.

    You stated that the government should act agains those inciting violence. When I tested your comitment to that principle (by giving an example of inciting war and violence against a tyrant) you instantly invoked special pleading for your preferred group.”

    ———————–

    Kea, you struggle with the problem of reading comprehension.

    I said that a state should act against those people that incite violence against its citizens and their property. By the same principle, a state should act to defend itself against external aggressors. This is a consistent application of the same principle.

    Abu Hamza al-Masri incited his followers to commit violent jihad against the society in which they lived. Winston Churchill advocated for military action against Nazi Germany – a hostile foreign state. If you cannot see the difference between these two situations, then there is no further point in continuing this discussion.

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