Bloggers may get First Amendment privileges

New rules being proposed to protect the confidentiality of US journalists’ sources may help clarify the issue of whether bloggers can be described as journalists.

Following the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller this year for failing to disclose a secret source who named an outspoken CIA agent, news organisations are hoping the proposed Free Flow of Information Act bill, currently going through the Senate, will better define protections afforded by First Amendment privilege.

The bill in its current form does not explicitly refer to bloggers but gives privilege to entities that “publish a newspaper, book, magazine or other periodical in print or electronic form”.

Yet that definition may be loose enough to cover independent bloggers, according to some Senators, who are concerned that such an extension would shield irresponsible independent publishers from any laws compelling them to identify sources on national security grounds.

The question of whether bloggers constitute journalists was previously tested in March when Apple won the right to have three rumour websites name their source for a product information leak on the grounds those sites were not “legitimate members of the press”.

But that case concerned trade secret law and a California court, while the proposed new legislation would be the first federal legislation, helping unify the shield laws already operated in most states.

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