I received this press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and thought it was worth sharing. There are plenty of people working in non-traditional formats (whether they’re bloggers on independent sites or doing something new) practicing journalism. They all should receive the same protection under the shield law and receive the same rights other journalists receive.
The full press release follows:
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties of New Jersey yesterday submitted a brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court seeking to protect the rights of bloggers and independent, non-traditional journalists under the First Amendment and New Jersey Shield Law.
“The reality is that people can gather and disseminate information without being part of a larger media conglomerate,” said Rutgers-Newark Law School Vice Dean Ronald Chen, who wrote the friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the ACLU-NJ. “The First Amendment protects the lone leafletter just as it does the large newspaper employee. Thanks to the Internet, today’s ‘lone leafletter’ can now reach a much larger audience than in the past.”
The ACLU-NJ’s amicus brief (pdf) seeks clarification of a decision issued by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court on April 22, 2010, which narrowly interprets the New Jersey Reporters’ Shield Law. In its decision, the lower court improperly limited free-press protections to journalists affiliated with traditional institutional journalism.
The lawsuit, Too Much Media v. Shellee Hale, arose in 2008 when Too Much Media, a Freehold-based software company, sued Washington State resident Shellee Hale claiming that information she disseminated about the company on the Internet was defamatory. Too Much Media sought Hale’s confidential sources of information as part of its defamation suit, but Hale invoked the New Jersey Shield Law, which in most instances protects members of the media from the pressure to disclose their confidential sources.
The ACLU-NJ’s brief to the New Jersey Supreme Court challenges the Appellate Division’s decision to deny Hale protection under the Shield Law based on her lack of affiliation with a traditional media service. The ACLU-NJ argues that the conduct and intent of a person to gather and disseminate information qualifies that person as a journalist, not whether that individual works for a “traditional” media outlet.
“The Shield Law was created to stimulate the free flow of information and serve society’s interests to acquire knowledge and hold those in power accountable. It should apply broadly,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “What matters is whether someone acts as a journalist and operates with the intent of a journalist, not whether that person is on a traditional media entity’s payroll.”
While the ACLU-NJ believes the courts should utilize a broader standard in determining application of the Shield Law’s protections, it also agrees that a person who simply makes intermittent comments on a message board or chat forum would not be protected. The organization takes no position and remains neutral on whether the defendant, Hale, has met the standard in this case.