Freedom of Speech for Web Publishers and Citizen Journalists

Do Bloggers Have to Reveal Their Sources?

The line between traditional media and bloggers and citizen journalists is blurry, at best. We take a look at whether blogger sources can remain confidential.

Do bloggers and citizen journalists deserve the same rights as any other media professional?

Bloggers argue that the only thing separating them from traditional media is that traditional journalists have the support of large news agencies. Bloggers and citizen journalists, on the other hand, are often one-man or small shop operations.

Unfortunately, the courts haven't been receptive to the idea of affording bloggers the same rights as journalists. Time after time, the courts have made a clear distinction between bloggers and traditional journalists, always to the legal detriment of web publishers who lack the reputation and resources of a large news organization.

The issue of bloggers' rights becomes especially acute when applied to sources. Traditional journalists enjoy certain benefits when it comes to protecting the anonymity of their sources. Bloggers, however, may not have similar legal standing and may be legally vulnerable. Here's what you need to know about the sources you rely on to generate your site's online content.

Current Legal Status

At the present time, 37 states have so-called "shield laws" that protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources. However, shield laws do not currently protect bloggers or citizen journalists. The language contained in shield law legislation intentionally defines a journalist according to the standards of traditional journalism, and often requires the journalist to be employed by an established media outlet.

Although cases have filtered through the courts, the legal system has consistently refused to recognize source protection and other journalistic privileges for bloggers and others who don't conform to the traditional journalism mold.

Problems & Concerns

The lack of protection for bloggers puts both the bloggers and their sources at risk. In some cases, the online publication of information can threaten the safety of the source. At the same time, bloggers and citizen journalists have been prosecuted and even jailed for refusing to release information and unpublished content.

The primary reason non-traditional journalists have been excluded from source anonymity and other benefits is because legislators aren't comfortable with the anonymous nature of blogging. However, in some areas of the world, anonymity is a prerequisite for sound reporting, especially in regions where truth-telling is met with violence.

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