Internet Law

Top NJ Court Says Bloggers May Not Qualify for State Shield Law Protection Against Revealing Sources

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Not every “self-appointed newsperson” is a journalist, for the purpose of applying New Jersey’s shield law protecting journalists from revealing their sources, the state supreme court ruled today.

Although a Washington state woman, Shellee Hale, who posted message board comments critical of Too Much Media, sought to apply the shield law against the New Jersey-based company, the court said something closer to a traditional journalist would be required to claim the statutory protection, reports the Associated Press.

The court did not, however, restrict the shield law’s ambit only to traditional journalists, the article notes.

“To ensure that the privilege does not apply to every self-appointed newsperson, the legislature requires that other means of disseminating news be ‘similar’ to traditional news sources to qualify for the law’s coverage,” wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in the court’s unanimous written opinion (PDF).

“We never believed any court would find that Ms. Hale was a journalist,” attorney Joel Kreizman, who represents Too Much Media, said after the decision. “What the court found was that these message boards are online conversations and are no more journalistic than any other conversations.”

The article doesn’t include any comment from Hale’s side about the ruling. Too Much Media sued her for defamation concerning her posts, and it appears that discovery will now proceed in that case.

New Jersey’s shield law is generally considered one of the broadest, if not the broadest, in the country.

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