A ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to overturn a defamation award against a blogger has affirmed that bloggers enjoy the same freedoms and constitutional protections as other journalists. A blogger, Crystal Cox, made a false accusation against Kevin D. Patrick and his Obsidian Financial Group, but that alone was not enough to find her liable, the court said: the plaintiffs had to prove negligence and harm to prevail.
The defendant was represented by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy and noted the relevant part of the judgment by Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz: “The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist…As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable…”.
The judgment is timely, as Congress is considering a media shield law that attempts to protect journalists from established news institutions, but not bloggers. The issue is one that attracted heated debate last year, when Matt Drudge took on Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) after she tried to distinguish between bloggers and “real reporters,” an effort that drew charges of “fascism” from Drudge, and derision from other critics as well.