Blogger not entitled to news media protection

The Daily Record Newswire

The protections of a state shield law can apply to online news reporters, but not to a self-described journalist who wrote allegedly defamatory comments on an Internet bulletin board, the New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled.

A woman launched a website, purportedly to inform the public about fraud in the adult entertainment industry. She posted a press release that stated her plans to conduct an investigation. That investigation eventually focused on one company, and she made several posts on an Internet bulletin board about the company and its owners, claiming that they threatened the life of a confidential source and engaged in other illegal conduct.

The owners sued for defamation, and during discovery, sought to depose the woman about the identity of her confidential source. She refused, claiming that she was protected by New Jersey's shield law, which protects members of the news media.

But the court denied her request for a protective order.

"It is not enough to simply self-proclaim oneself a journalist. Here, the only evidence in support of [the defendant's] claim that she is a newsperson is her own self-serving characterization and testimony as to her intent in gathering information, which the trial court found not credible, a determination to which we defer.

"Defendant has produced no credentials or proof of affiliation with any recognized news entity, nor has she demonstrated adherence to any standard of professional responsibility regulating institutional journalism, such as editing, fact-checking or disclosure of conflicts of interest. ...

"We hold only that under the admittedly broad language of 'news' and 'news media' contained in [the shield law], and in view of the totality of the evidence, defendant has exhibited none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process, nor has she demonstrated an established connection or affiliation with any news entity," the court said.

New Jersey Appellate Division. Too Much Media, LLC v. Hale, No. A-0964-09T3. April 22, 2010. Lawyers USA No. 993-1836.

Published: Mon, May 17, 2010