Bloggers’ rights, and blogging vs. traditional journalism: let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend
Blogging as one of our rights to free expression was the subject of an important and excellent ARTICLE 19 paper published earlier this month. ARTICLE 19 ‘is an international human rights organisation, founded in 1986, which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide.’
Highlights — to some of which we have added extra emphasis, in italics:
Who is a blogger?
In the most basic sense, a blogger is any person who writes entries for, adds materials to, or maintains a ‘blog’ – a web log published on the Internet. Blogs allow anyone to self-publish online without prior editing or commissioning by an intermediary (e.g. someone like a newspaper editor). They can be immediate and also anonymous if the blogger so desires.
What matters most about the right to blog?
Blogging plays an invaluable role in the free flow of information worldwide. It enables a true exchange of information in ways that traditional media did not in the past. It also allows an immediate sharing of information with its audience and immediate feedback. It represents a valuable form of alternative journalism and is an example of the Internet’s ‘democratisation of publishing.’
In the 21st century, many bloggers will take their place as watchdogs, alongside traditional media. The international community and individual states must develop protection for bloggers, just as they have developed protection for traditional media, despite the many constraints. Throughout history, the traditional media have obtained protection as a group although, at the individual level, many members of the media are not concerned with advancing public interest. Similar protection must be provided to bloggers.
How are bloggers different from journalists?
ARTICLE 19 has long argued that ‘journalism’ and ‘journalists’ should not be defined by reference to some recognised body of training, or by affiliation with a media entity or professional body.5 We have argued that journalism is an activity that can be exercised by anyone, and that it is important that any legal standards and principles applicable to the activity should reflect this.
In particular, the definition of the term ‘journalist’ should be broad to include any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.
At the same time, any person who seeks to publish information on matters of public interest should benefit from the same protection and privileges given to professional journalists under existing case law, including prohibiting any requirement for journalists to be registered, requiring the authorities to investigate attacks on them, and protecting their sources.
– Relevant legal standards should reflect the fact that ‘journalism’ consists
of disseminating information and ideas to the public by any means of communication. As such, it is an activity which can be exercised by anyone.
– Any definition of the term ‘journalist’ should be broad, to include any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.
– Bloggers should never be required to obtain a licence to blog.
– Bloggers should never be required to register with the government or other
– Accreditation schemes must meet international freedom of expression standards and should ensure that:
– all applicants, including bloggers, who meet the minimum requirements defined in the law should be automatically issued with a ‘press’ facilitation card;
– press cards should only be required to get access to events or premises where there is a clear need to limit attendance based on limited space or the potential for disruption;
– the conditions for obtaining a press card should be based on the overall public interest and not on considerations such as affiliation with a professional association or degree in journalism.
– Legal commentators, including bloggers, should be allowed to use social media from court rooms if the hearings are open to the public.
– To the extent that they are engaged in journalistic activity, bloggers should be able to rely on the right to protect their sources.
– Any request to disclose sources should be strictly limited to the most serious cases. It should be approved only by an independent judge in a fair and public hearing with a possibility of an appeal.
– State authorities must guarantee the safety of bloggers using a variety of measures, including the prohibition of crimes against freedom of expression in their domestic laws.
￼– States must take reasonable steps to protect bloggers and other individuals actively engaged in online communities when they know or ought to know of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life of an identified blogger as a result of the criminal acts of a third party;
– State authorities must carry out independent, speedy and effective investigations into threats or violent attacks against bloggers or other individuals engaged in journalistic activity online.
– The laws governing the liability of bloggers, including defamation law, incitement and other speech-related offences, must comply with international freedom of expression standards.
– As a general rule, bloggers should not be held liable for comments made by third parties on their blogs in circumstances where they have not intervened or modified those comments.
– For certain types of content, for example content that is defamatory or infringes copyright, consideration should be given to adopting ‘notice-and-notice’ approaches whereby bloggers would be required to pass the complaint to the original maker of the statement at issue, without removing the material upon notice.
– The term ‘duties and responsibilities’ in Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 10 of the European Convention must be interpreted flexibly to take into account the particular situation of the blogger in question.
– Bloggers should not be forced to abide by the ethical codes or codes of conduct developed by traditional media and should not be coerced or given an incentive to join self-regulatory bodies for traditional media.
– Bloggers may decide to follow the ethical standards of traditional media of their own accord. They can also develop their own code of practice either for their own blogs or for associations they voluntarily join. Alternative dispute resolution systems should also be encouraged.
– When bloggers produce a piece for a traditional newspaper, they should be subject to the newspaper’s editorial control, and abide by the ethical standards of journalists.