Carnival of Journalism / Legal Issues

Carnival of Journalism: a world of legal issues

Fourth page of Constitution of the United States.Image via WikipediaThis is almost a week late, but I wanted to chime in on the topic of this month’s Carnival of Journalism, hosted by my good friend Doug Fisher of the University of South Carolina (USC of the East).

This months’ Carnival of Journalism features the following topic:

 What changes will need to be made in national and international legal systems to help the digital age, and especially journalism in the digital age, flourish? We talk a lot about hyper-local journalism, innovation, the journalism entrepreneur, etc. But we don’t often talk much about the legal issues still hanging in the background out there…

The biggest legal issue, IMHO, is not related to intellectual property (copyright, fair use, etc.), but freedom of expression.

The crux of the problem is that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is somewhat unique in its recognition of freedom of the press, as interpreted by U.S. courts. In terms of prior restraint and defamation, especially, the U.S. legal protections go well beyond those provided for the media in other countries.

So, for instance, a blogger or news outlet located in the United States could be sued for hate speech or defamation or prejudicing a jury in another country. See this International Herald Tribune article for one example of how laws differ from country to country.

This wasn’t so much an issue in the past, but as Doug notes, the Internet creates a virtual world of ideas without boundaries. So whose jurisdiction wins?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to the question. It is buried deep within my U.S. Bill of Rights-loving bones to assert that the answer to speech that offends is more speech that asserts the truth, not the heavy club of the law. But there is also a realization that other countries and cultures disagree about that ideal.

As intellectual property law has been more or less standardized among developed nations, the result has been a benefit for those with monetary interests in tighter controls, not greater freedom for the average citizens.

It would seem that a similar scenario would play out in the arena of free expression were we to attempt such a standardization of free expression across the globe.

Journalists should fight efforts to curtail freedom of expression, whether through enhanced hate speech laws, defamation laws, or laws relating to prior restraint. While the fight to secure such rights has been long and hard in the U.S., the globalized environment we live in will require further vigilance to expand those ideals, and ensure U.S.-based journalists don’t end up on the wrong end of legal rulings around the world.

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