As it turns out, when President Obama complained late last year about conservative internet bloggers mucking up his plans to continue lying to the American public, he indeed has something to worry about. As much as Obama wants to ignore the growing power of the citizen journalist online press, bloggers are given even more validation and protection by a federal appeals court. According to Fox News, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday that First Amendment rights given to journalists also extend to the public bloggers as well.
The ruling stems from a case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which was handling a lawsuit brought by an Oregon bankruptcy trustee against a Montana online blogger. It appears that Crystal L. Cox used several of her online sites to blog about the Oregon financial company Obsidian Finance Group LLC. She accused the company of engaging in, “fraud, corruption, money-laundering and other illegal activities,” reported Fox News.
The jury in the federal court case ruled against the blogger and awarded the finance company, $2.5 million for defamation. The appeals court disagreed with the verdict and found that since the matter was, “of public concern,” the lower court and the jury should have been guided by the journalistic negligence standard,” which is an established legal principle.
This legal principle which has been a foundational column for professional journalists since the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., extends to bloggers and their various website postings. This is of critical importance for conservative bloggers and Tea Party activists sites which have been focusing their attention on liberal and progressive local, state and national public issues.
Federal Appeals Court Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote. In his decision that, “We hold that liability for a defamatory blog post involving a matter of public concern cannot be imposed without proof of fault and actual damages.“ According to Fox News, the lower court should have instructed the jury that guilt and fault for defamation could not have been established unless she acted negligently.
Even though the appeals court ordered a new trial for the defamation case, it also found that if the trustee had been a public figure, the blogger would have been further protected. The jury would have had to determine that the blogger had acted with malice in her postings to her websites.
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