by Peter Grady –
An Oregon judge has ruled a “blogger” in Montana is not protected by shield laws from revealing sources because she is not considered a journalist.
Crystal Cox, a blogger from Eureka, Mont., was sued for defamation after posting online that an Oregon lawyer acted criminally during a bankruptcy case.
Attorney Kevin Padrick was accused of being a thug and thief over his handling of bankruptcy proceedings between him and Obsidian Finance Group, LLC.
During the proceedings, U.S. District Judge, Marco Hernandez, ruled that Cox was not a journalist and, therefore, she is unable to claim the protections offered to mainstream reporters and news outlets.
Regardless of the merits of Padrick’s claims, the real danger is not the libel charge itself, but rather the judge’s determination of what qualifies as a journalist.
The judge ruled that Cox was not a journalist because among other things, she had no media credentials or formal “education in journalism” and was not affiliated with a “recognized news entity.” Hernandez said that, “Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not ‘media.’”
Some groups have expressed concern with the judge’s list of qualifications for who is a journalist. For instance, would it apply to websites like the Huffington Post or WND which publish exclusively online, but are oftentimes criticized for not being legitimate news sites by both the left and right? High School newspapers typically do not have their student reporters “credentialed.”
Joseph Farah, editor and founder of WND, said some journalists worried about these issues when shield laws were first passed back in the 1970’s. Farah has over 25 years of newspaper experience including stints as editor in chief of major market dailies including the Sacramento Union.
“It’s always a dangerous precedent when government attempts to limit First Amendment liberties. That was a concern about shield laws, in general, when they were popularly instituted widely in the 1970s. A few journalists back then, including me, wondered how the government would define journalists.”
Farah continued, “Most of us working at mainstream daily newspapers back then didn’t concern themselves with such matters. They were protected and that’s pretty much all they cared about. Shield laws were universally applauded as one more layer of First Amendment protections.”
“But some of us were raising those questions long before the Internet emerged. They were legitimate then, and they are legitimate now. Shield laws come dangerously close to government licensing of journalists, if you will. And that’s the opposite of what the First Amendment is all about.”
Farah said there will be many more court cases to come before this matter of who is a journalist is settled.
Tags: Attorney Kevin Padrick, Crystal, Crystal Cox, Crystal Coxby Peter Grady, District Judge Marco Hernandez, First Amendment, government, High School, Huffington Post, judge, Kevin, list, LLC, news, Obsidian Finance Group, online, Oregon, right, Sacramento Union, WND