Blog Comments under Legal Scrutiny

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September 30, 2010 – It’s a battle of opinions in New Jersey as the New Jersey Supreme Court struggles to deal with an appeal of a supposed journalist seeking protection under the reporter shield law.

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Today anyone can be a “reporter” on a blog.

The state of New Jersey has a reporter shield law that allows journalists to keep the identity of their sources confidential. However, in the case of Shellee Hale, the classification of “journalist” is where the issue gets blurry. Hale was accused of posting defamatory information on Oprano, the self-proclaimed “Wall Street Journal for the online adult entertainment industry.”

Hale’s attacks were against the Too Much Media company whom she accused of engaging in “fraudulent, unethical and illegal uses of technology” which she backed up with claims from anonymous sources. Too Much Media sued Hale for defamation, seeking damages and the identities of her sources.

An unsuccessful argument to the trial judge was that Hale was protected under the shield law, meaning she did not legally have to disclose her sources. However, the argument failed, as the judge denied her status as a journalist, as she did not have any credentials or proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity.

Another loss at the appellate court level has forced Hale to take her case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, claiming she is an “Internet reporter investigating corruption.” Her attorney, Jeffrey Pollock, argues that if bloggers are not entitled to the shield law when citing confidential sources on the Internet, there may be a larger issue with freedom of the press in the future.

Too Much Media’s lawyer, Joel Kreizman, claims that Hale was not acting as a journalist in her comments, as they were not posted to her own blog, nor were they posted on a news organization affiliated website.

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