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Making freedom of the press mundane, again

<![CDATA[With the ridiculous and dangerous use of imprisonment of journalists it deems opponents by the Bush Administration while their own toadying journalistic operatives go free in the same case, we need to understand that the freedom of the press and the privileges that have been enjoyed by journalists are available to all. First off, I […]

<![CDATA[With the ridiculous and dangerous use of imprisonment of journalists it deems opponents by the Bush Administration while their own toadying journalistic operatives go free in the same case, we need to understand that the freedom of the press and the privileges that have been enjoyed by journalists are available to all.
First off, I agree with Chris Locke that talking about blogging like it is special is like discussing “A New Class of Peripherals for Your Electrical System—LAMPS!”
Blogging is no more special than journalism, it imbues no perfection on the writer and that was the point of my comment that bloggers simply haven’t had enough time to embarrass themselves to the degree that journalism has with its Rathergates, Jayson Blairs, Janet Cookes, Patricia Smiths, Bill O’Reillys, Fox Networks, Hearsts and so on. We’re all human, goddamnit, and you give any group of people some sense of being blessed and they will fuck up. What can I say, I’m a cynic. Hopeful that we’ll do better, but cynical about the prospects of any organization that claims special insight or purity.
What’s extraordinary is that with a simple tool for composing and syndicating writing, audio and video, everyone should be enjoying the same privileges as the owners of the presses of the industrial age. The combination of the freedoms of the press in the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment‘s assurances Americans are “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and siezures” suggests we all should be able to preserve the anonymity of our sources.
Unfortunately, bloggers are anointing themselves with a mantel of purity and professionalism that should remain the sacred property of all Americans. In order to resolve the problem of having no legal representation, the Media Bloggers Association has launched a legal defense fund project. They have an excellent lawyer and the idea is a good one, but it is deeply flawed because it ties membership to a specific definition of blogging.
Here are the limited by significant requirements for membership and, hence, political protection by the MBA’s legal representatives:

The only requirements for membership are:

• Actively blogging on the topic of news/political media;

• Displaying an approved MBA logo/hyperlink on the home page of member blogs;

• Playing well with others.

Okay, maybe I don’t play well with others. I’m generally contrary and critical, as you can tell. But, libel and slander are not limited to political and news blogging. What about a hobbyist blogger who violates a company’s definition of confidentiality, as in the current rash of Apple Computer lawsuits? What about a blogger who comments on the behavior of another person or blogger in a way perceived by the subject to be libelous?

There is a simpler answer: A collective insurance program funded by anyone who blogs. If one million bloggers contributed ten dollars a year, we could cover most if not all the legal costs of the blogosphere and non-blog Web pages created by unincorporated entities (companies have their insurance already). This insurance, purchased from a reputable company—say Lloyds—would cover legal costs and services could be distributed through a non-profit like the EFF, which hired the lawyers and billed the insurer for actual expenditures.

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Labels, logos and professional societies need not be involved in this, which would go a long way to moving the privileges of the press to the edge of the network, where the citizen is taking up the responsibilities much of the the press dropped when it became a form of entertainment.]]>

3 replies on “Making freedom of the press mundane, again”

I would love to open up our project to non-members but our lawyers are volunteers and I don’t think they would appreciate our abusing their generosity by turning their offer of help into a full-time job.
I have to edit that bullet list you quoted…our definition of “media blogger” is a lot softer than that (old) list. We softened the language elsewhere to cast a wider net but I guess we forgot to fix the section you quoted.
We are open to anyone who feels that they can make the case that they are a “media blogger” – this has led us to include “media relations” bloggers, “cartoonists”, “online radio shows”. We WANT members and have no idea of being exclusionary.
Either way, thanks for the mention – and don’t get sued! 🙂

With all due respect and appreciating the humor you display, I’m not the one likely to get sued as I have been a journalist for 20 years, though one inclined to avoid professional societies. The problem is everyone who isn’t an experienced media blogger, whatever that means.
I also think that volunteers are great, but they aren’t going to be sufficient to drive a campaign to extend press protections to the self-publisher. However, every publisher in history owes their privileges to self-publishers like John Peter Zenger and Ben Franklin, so I don’t think you’re going far enough. I’d be happy to see you win a court case for a member, but there is a legitimate mechanism—insurance—that could be put in place to protect all bloggers.
The trick is deciding who to defend. If a blogger commits libel they should not be defended, so membership or payment towards the insurance should not guarantee a defense. The ACLU works that way, deciding which cases to take. With an insurer to foot the bill if someone is accused of libel or hauled into court over their sources, we could make a huge amount of progress.
I’ll tell you what, there is a simple way to do this: We set up a 501(c)3 that collects the money and buys the insurance policy, but that retains 5 percent or 10 percent to pay for a professional staff that is available to consult with bloggers wanting to know about the laws and that conducts teach-ins to spread information about how to write without crossing legal lines (we should tolerate the crossing all sorts of cultural, religious, artistic and aesthetic lines). If one million bloggers gave $10 a year—a tax paid by self-selecting citizens of the blogosphere—the program would be a huge success. If 100,000 gave $10, it will be a small success.
Call the project The Citizens’ Press Rights Project and use banner ads donated by Google, Kanoodle, etc.