Media & Communications Law

Blogger Not a Journalist in Porn Defamation Suit, NJ Appeals Court Rules

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In a decision that is expected to help shape the definition of journalist, a New Jersey appellate court ruled Thursday that a blogger who wrote comments online about a software company that supports online pornography sites is not a journalist covered by the state’s shield law.

The court likened Shellee Hale’s writings about Too Much Media to a letter-to-the-editor in a newspaper, the Star-Ledger reports.

Hale’s comments in 2008 had prompted a defamation suit by TMM. The company claimed Hale, a former Microsoft employee and mother of five from Washington state, defamed it by writing, among other things, that the firm had violated state laws protecting consumers against identity theft. They demanded that Hale reveal her sources for those allegations. Hale refused, citing the state’s shield law because she was in the process of writing an article about the online pornography industry.

“It’s an important decision,” said Bruce Rosen, a Florham Park attorney who represented the media organizations who joined in part of the suit. Rosen told the Star-Ledger that a clearer definition of who is covered by the newsperson’s privilege was long overdue.

“There’s a vacuum out there and this fills a void. I wish it was a little more precise and accurate. It creates a roadmap, but unfortunately some of the signs along the road are unclear or erroneous,” he said.

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