The freedom of expression NGO, Article 19, has published a policy paper on the “Right to Blog” [pdf]. Article 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of bloggers domestically and internationally.
The paper also gives practical advice to bloggers about their rights and explains how – and in what situations – they can invoke some of the privileges and defences that traditional journalists have found vital to the integrity of their work.
Article 19 points that that the Internet has made it possible for any person to publish ideas, information and opinions to the entire world. In particular, blogging and social media now rival newspapers and television as dominant sources of news and information.
It argues that it is no longer appropriate to define journalism and journalists by reference to some recognised body of training, or affiliation with a news entity or professional body. On the contrary, Article 19 believes that the definition of journalism should be functional, that is journalism is an activity that can be exercised by anyone. Accordingly, it argues that international human rights law must protect bloggers just as it protects journalists.
The key recommendations of the paper are as follows:
- Relevant legal standards should reflect the fact that ‘journalism’ consists of disseminating information and ideas to the public by any means of communication. As such, it is an activity which can be exercised by anyone.
- Any definition of the term ‘journalist’ should be broad, to include any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.
- Bloggers should never be required to obtain a licence to blog.
- Bloggers should never be required to register with the government or other official bodies.
- Accreditation schemes must meet international freedom of expression standards and should ensure that:
- all applicants, including bloggers, who meet the minimum requirements defined in the law should be automatically issued with a ‘press’ facilitation card;
- press cards should only be required to get access to events or premises where there is a clear need to limit attendance based on limited space or the potential for disruption;
- the conditions for obtaining a press card should be based on the overall public interest and not on considerations such as affiliation with a professional association or degree in journalism.
- Legal commentators, including bloggers, should be allowed to use social media from court rooms if the hearings are open to the public.
- To the extent that they are engaged in journalistic activity, bloggers should be able to rely on the right to protect their sources.
- Any request to disclose sources should be strictly limited to the most serious cases. It should be approved only by an independent judge in a fair and public hearing with a possibility of an appeal.
- State authorities must guarantee the safety of bloggers using a variety of measures, including the prohibition of crimes against freedom of expression in their domestic laws.
- States must take reasonable steps to protect bloggers and other individuals actively engaged in online communities when they know or ought to know of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life of an identified blogger as a result of the criminal acts of a third party;
- State authorities must carry out independent, speedy and effective investigations into threats or violent attacks against bloggers or other individuals engaged in journalistic activity online.
- The laws governing the liability of bloggers, including defamation law, incitement and other speech-related offences, must comply with international freedom of expression standards.
- As a general rule, bloggers should not be held liable for comments made by third parties on their blogs in circumstances where they have not intervened or modified those comments.
- For certain types of content, for example content that is defamatory or infringes copyright, consideration should be given to adopting ‘notice-and-notice’ approaches whereby bloggers would be required to pass the complaint to theoriginal maker of the statement at issue, without removing the material upon notice.
- The term ‘duties and responsibilities’ in Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 10 of the European Convention must be interpreted flexibly to take into account the particular situation of the blogger in question.
- Bloggers should not be forced to abide by the ethical codes or codes of conduct developed by traditional media and should not be coerced or given an incentive to join self-regulatory bodies for traditional media.
- Bloggers may decide to follow the ethical standards of traditional media of their own accord. They can also develop their own code of practice either for their own blogs or for associations they voluntarily join. Alternative dispute resolution systems should also be encouraged.
- When bloggers produce a piece for a traditional newspaper, they should be subject to the newspaper’s editorial control, and abide by the ethical standards