Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that bloggers have the same First Amendment Rights as journalists and members of the media. Now, a Florida court has ruled in favor of bloggers as media and qualify as media defendants when they are accused of publishing defamatory statements.
According to Techdirt (syndicated by Newstex), a Florida appeals court upheld the decision that Florida businessman Christopher Comins had to follow the laws related to filing a lawsuit against a media property when he sued University of Florida blogger Frederick VanVoorhis for defamation based on a blog post VanVoorhis wrote related to Comins. In Florida, you must give notice to a media property at least five days before you file a defamation lawsuit. Comins did not do this. Therefore, his case did not hold up in the original court or the appeals court.
The important thing that content publishers need to know about this court ruling is that the court found that high quality bloggers are likely media. The ruling says:
“We are not prepared to say that all blogs and bloggers qualify for protection of section 770.01, Florida Statutes, but we conclude that VanVoorhis’s blog, at issue here, is within the ambit of the statute’s protection as an alternative medium of news and public comment.”
The court explains how it came to that decision in its ruling, saying:
“The impact of blogs has been so great that even terms traditionally well defined and understood in journalism are changing as journalists increasingly employ the tools and techniques of bloggers – and vice versa. In employing the word “blog,” we consider a site operated by a single individual or a small group that has primarily an informational purpose, most commonly in an area of special interest, knowledge or expertise of the blogger, and which usually provides for public impact or feedback. In that sense, it appears clear that many blogs and bloggers will fall within the broad reach of “media,” and, if accused of defamatory statements, will qualify as a “media defendant” for purposes of Florida’s defamation law as discussed above.”
Matthew Ingram of Gigaom (syndicated by Newstex) explains that this legal ruling is just one more, “decision that helps support the idea of protecting acts of journalism, rather than just specific people who are defined as professional journalists.” In other words, your job title or the company you work for doesn’t define a person or a publication as a journalist, a member of the media, journalism, or media. It’s what you do that courts will use to determine whether or not you and your publication are media.
As the Florida appeals court ruled, the term blog has taken on a variety of meanings with an even greater variety of content, purpose, and quality. Those bloggers who publish high quality content with the intent to inform, explain, and share information with broader audiences should be considered forms of media, and finally, courts are ruling in favor of focusing on what content publishers (including bloggers) do rather than semantics.
You can read the complete court decision here.
Image: Jason Morrison