Steve Rubel reports today on efforts in the U.S. Congress to pass a shield law that would protect bloggers from disclosing sources for their posts. The Columbia Journalism Review provides a detailed description of the proposal and its background. Ironically, conservative Republican Mike Pence of Indiana is the driving force behind enacting a federal shield law to incorporate members of the traditional media as well as bloggers who work for “newsgathering organizations.” Few would typically consider conservatives to be the advocate for the traditional media.
Frankly, this is simply a bad idea, however. One can debate the merits of a shield law for traditional media, but it strikes me that as valuable as blogs can be to the news process, a shield law for bloggers is a murky area at best. If a blogger has knowledge of someone or some facts that related to a crime, for instance, why should the blogger be able to hide behind a shield law?
Steve aptly points out that the definition of a newsgathering blogger will itself be a source of confusion. He writes: “Some bloggers break news and then in the next post go back to talking about what they had for breakfast. The lines get even blurrier when you consider social news sites like digg and, of course, entirely new animals like Twitter.”
Undoubtedly if such a law were to take effect some number of bloggers would try to use the shield to avoid complying with legitimate subpoenas. It provides too much opportunity to tie things up in court in order to delay compliance. And the first crazy blogger who uses the law improperly will give a bad name to the rest of us.
Writing protections for bloggers into the law is a good way to make the blogosphere more complicated and ultimately less free. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if something is purportedly done on behalf of bloggers that it is good for social media.