Bloggers’ rights, and blogging vs. traditional journalism: let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend

'Let a hundred schools of thought contend' postgutenberg@gmail.com

‘Let a hundred schools of thought contend’
postgutenberg@gmail.com

'Let a hundred bloggers bloom' postgutenberg@gmail.com

‘Let a hundred bloggers bloom’
postgutenberg@gmail.com

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.

Key recommendations

– 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

official bodies.

– 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.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Bloggers’ rights, and blogging vs. traditional journalism: let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend

  1. Not opposed to elevating the status of bloggers to the titles ‘journalist’ or ‘journalism.’ However, to equate blogging with an elegantly argued piece of journalism is to diminish the intellectual rigour required to produce such a piece. For the most part, blogs are sound bites: impressionistic, unsubstantiated pronouncements that can stimulate real journalism. Or not.

  2. Are you sure there’s any such equating, Soul Sister? — did you happen to see this Key Recommendation:

    ‘– 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’

    … The Article 19 paper is simply saying that the same person can write a mediated text, satisfying the requirements of a particular newspaper, or publish without any intermediary …and that,

    ‘– 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.’

    Seems fair enough, don’t you think?

    There seems to be widespread confusion between the right to a turn at ‘the megaphone’ — access easily shared by many, on the net — and the quality or style of the performance. It isn’t as if anyone is being forced to listen to all the performers. If a blogger or journalist doesn’t rise to a standard high enough for a reader, the reader can simply move on.

  3. – 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.

    Not being a journalist, I’m not sure whether ‘editorial control’ refers to the quality of the piece (i.e., ‘the intellectual rigour’). ‘Ethical standards’ appears to be unrelated to rigour.

    Nevertheless my aim is not to dispute Article 19 – simply to suggest a qualification. ‘The democratization of publishing’ is alluring in its simplicity. Simplicity or simplistic? Each of us has the right to write: that’s manifest. The issue is that there are no ‘editorial control(s)’ in the cloud. Case in point: trolling.

  4. Nevertheless my aim is not to dispute Article 19 – simply to suggest a qualification. ‘The democratization of publishing’ is alluring in its simplicity. Simplicity or simplistic? Each of us has the right to write: that’s manifest.

    Aha! … Soul Sister, you appear to live in a country where you say that the right to write (you meant ‘publish,’ yes?) is ‘manifest’. Billions do not share your good luck.

    Have you had a chance to read the paper by ARTICLE 19 (links are in the first paragraph of the blog post)? It’s so clearly written that I’m guessing that you haven’t — or you’d have seen that its purpose is partly to defend the millions across the globe who can’t take that right for granted.

    But of course the paper is also addressing censorship and control, and the wish to control bloggers, in countries where free speech has long been taken for granted. This is arguably even more alarming, since it can be used by repressive regimes elsewhere to justify their behaviour.

    Not being a journalist, I’m not sure whether ‘editorial control’ refers to the quality of the piece (i.e., ‘the intellectual rigour’). ‘Ethical standards’ appears to be unrelated to rigour.

    Of course you are quoting a scrap of one of p-G’s excerpts from the ARTICLE 19 paper, there, and not p-G. Our interpretation of ‘editorial control’ would extend to every aspect of a piece, including ethical standards. And if an article appears in a particular publication, whether it is written by ‘blogger’ or a ‘journalist’, its style and approach would be consistent with that publication’s standards. This is part of ARTICLE 19’s point, isn’t it? … Of course the degree of ‘editorial control’ would also depend on what it says in the contract between a particular writer and a particular newspaper.

    As for ‘intellectual rigour’, do you see that that’s a false opposition you’ve set up (blogging vs. ‘elegantly argued piece of journalism’)? It’s common for intellectually distinguished, brilliant and even well-known people to have blogs, nowadays. And anyone who followed the Leveson hearings knows — from the testimony of some of the finest journalists around — why the quality of journalism ranges from utterly trite to magnificent.

    Before you automatically impute high quality to all journalism, Soul Sister, see one instance of what honest journalists have long been saying about the profession. It is sad but true that
    this remark in a British paper earlier this week by a well-known and good American journalist is fully representative

    Brown made a quintessential chattering class mistake of thinking that the business of journalism was about expertise, talent, or prestige instead of about scale.

    […] the real job of journalism is to find a form that fits the financial limitation of the medium, however low.

    Thank you for this chance to clarify common — deeply baffling :) — misconceptions in the debate about blogging vs. journalism. … And do please read the ARTICLE 19 paper, when you have a moment. It’s beautifully written ( — and no, to defray suspicion: p-G knows no one at that organisation, whose ‘contact us’ page reveals a physical location close to the former headquarters of a large London newspaper we know).

  5. Each of us has the right to write: this is manifest:

    I’m not disputing that in some countries this right cannot be exercised because of oppression. Simply stating that it is an inherent right. But like many sweeping statements – it’s facile. It requires explication and clarification to begin to be meaningful.

    Journalism vs. blogs: it appears that I’ve described a false dichotomy here. Let me explicate:

    Firstly all journalism per se is not erudite. Nor are all blogs merely ‘chatter’. The fact that some ‘distinguished’ people blog doesn’t necessarily mean that their blogs are erudite. I continue to contend that blogging by its very nature (by this I mean the constrictions of space, the fast and impressionistic pace of response and counter-response) can inhibit intellectually rigorous debate. No matter how ‘distinguished’ you are: you are constrained by the mechanics of blogging.

    Journalism (good or bad) is constrained by editorial controls. There are no editorial controls on the Internet: blogs, where trolls operate, have an enormous capacity for destruction. In my country, there have been several cases where young people have suicided after being subjected to relentless abuse in the guise of blogs.

    Blogs: yes to the right to write. Trolling: no to the right to abuse. How will you control for that in a brave new world of literary (post-Gutenberg) freedom?

  6. No matter how ‘distinguished’ you are: you are constrained by the mechanics of blogging.

    Not sure what you mean here, Soul Sister. The blogging _process_, if you like, imposes no constraints on anyone — intrinsically — does it? It can be done fast or slowly, sloppily or with care, with or without substantiating links, etc. — yes?

    Journalism (good or bad) is constrained by editorial controls.

    Yes, but editorial controls that reflect different standards, yes? And these can be abysmal or lofty — can, for instance, sanction phone and email hacking in the course of duty. There is nothing innately virtuous or fine about editorial controls. It all depends on whose controls they are. (Think of ‘tabolid’ vs. ‘broadsheet’ standards in Britain.)

    There are no editorial controls on the Internet: blogs, where trolls operate, have an enormous capacity for destruction. In my country, there have been several cases where young people have suicided after being subjected to relentless abuse in the guise of blogs.

    Now, trolls are another subject altogether, and not addressed in this p-G post. Journalism — even the kind carefully mediated by skilled editors — is known to have driven some people to suicide. No time to look it up, but the justified outrage of the family of one such victim was part of the reason why David Cameron had to commission the Leveson Inquiry.

    Yet no reasonable beings would _automatically_ equate the practice of journalism to trolling, would they?

  7. === Each of us has the right to write: this is manifest:

    I’m not disputing that in some countries this right cannot be exercised because of oppression. Simply stating that it is an inherent right. But like many sweeping statements – it’s facile. It requires explication and clarification to begin to be meaningful. ===

    Who is questioning anyone’s right to write?

    Blogging is about publishing, yes?

  8. At no point have I equated journalism with trolling: quite the opposite. There are some real (albeit imperfect as you point out) editorial constraints on journalism. There are no such constraints (imperfect or otherwise) on blogs and trolling. Cleary not the focus p-G’s current blog: but for me an important question when broad statements are made such as the need for the ‘Democratisation of publishing.’ and the rapid elevation of blogs to journalism without the concomitant and important constraints imposed upon that profession.

    My question remains – although off-point for this blog . How will you control for the malicious content of some blogs in a brave new world of literary (post-Gutenberg) freedom? Where is the regulation that protects us from internet abuse but also protects our right to write?

  9. Not the subject of this blog, indeed, Soul Sister … and trolls in various forms have been around since time began. They used to be, for instance, malicious village gossips. … Lately, trolls driving pople to suicide have been not bloggers but tweeters. Look at this tragedy, (Wiki extract)

    Tyler Clementi (December 19, 1991 – September 22, 2010) was an eighteen-year-old student at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. On September 19, his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow hallmate, Molly Wei, used a webcam on Ravi’s computer and a computer in Wei’s dorm room to view, without Clementi’s knowledge, Clementi kissing another man.[3] On September 21, the day prior to the suicide, Ravi urged friends and Twitter followers to watch via his webcam

    But the right conclusion to draw is not that trolls = tweeters or trolls = bloggers. Trolls are trolls.

    And the trolls will always be with us.

Comments are closed.