Bloggers as Journalists

September 28th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Inforrm blogs:

 There’s quite a lot to digest in the recent decision of Hogan J. in Cornec v. Morrice & Ors. Most of the judgment deals with wider issues in the protection of journalists’ sources, and unsurprisingly the media coverage so far tends to focus on this aspect. But reading the judgment, I was struck by the way in which it considered whether non-traditional media could also benefit from similar protections. In particular, it appears to be the first Irish judgment to consider the position of bloggers.

In this case orders were sought to compel two individuals – Nicola Tallant and Mike Garde – to testify for the purposes of US civil proceedings. Both objected to the orders on various grounds, including the argument that requiring their testimony would reveal both their sources and the information provided by these sources, contrary to their journalistic privilege recognised by Irish law.

The Judge says:

While Mr. Garde is not a journalist in the strict sense of the term, it is clear from that his activities involve the chronicling of the activities of religious cults. Part of the problem here is that the traditional distinction between journalists and laypeople has broken down in recent decades, not least with the rise of social media. It is probably not necessary here to discuss questions such as whether the casual participant on an internet discussion site could invoke Goodwin-style privileges, although the issue may not be altogether far removed from the facts of this case.

Yet Mr. Garde’s activities fall squarely within the “education of public opinion” envisaged by Article 40.6.1. A person who blogs on an internet site can just as readily constitute an “organ of public opinion” as those which were more familiar in 1937 and which are mentioned (but only as examples) in Article 40.6.1, namely, the radio, the press and the cinema.Since Mr. Garde’s activities fall squarely within the education of public opinion, there is a high constitutional value in ensuring that his right to voice these views in relation to the actions of religious cults is protected. It does not require much imagination to accept that critical information in relation to the actions of those bodies would dry up if Mr. Garde could be compelled to reveal this information, whether in the course of litigation or otherwise. It is obvious from the very text of Article 40.6.1 that the right to educate (and influence) public opinion is at the very heart of the rightful liberty of expression. That rightful liberty would be compromised – perhaps even completely jeopardised – if disclosure of sources and discussions with sources could readily be compelled through litigation.

A decision I welcome. It does not mean all bloggers can get journalistic protection. But that some bloggers could, if they are blogging on issues of public interest.

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