December 13, 2006
On libel and Vicki Truitt

The Star Telegram has a mostly condescending editorial about the bloggers versus State Rep. Vicki Truitt dustup. I'll leave the response to that part of it to Eileen and her legions of mind-controlled commenters, but in the meantime, there was a salient point in there somewhere:

[Vince] Leibowitz pointed out a part of the state's libel law written in 1985 that should be changed for the Internet era and beyond.

The law specifically protects "a newspaper or other periodical" from being sued for libel when reporting on things that happen in a court of law, the proceedings of a government body or meetings dealing with public issues.

The protection also extends to "reasonable and fair comment on or criticism of an official act of a public official or other matter of public concern for general information."

One way to look at it is that the Star-Telegram is specifically protected by state law when it criticizes Truitt for her official acts, but Internet bloggers are not. That's not good. We're both doing the same thing, and we both deserve the same protection for fair reporting and comment.

Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocate for Internet rights, says that a blogger who is sued by a public official for libel probably could mount a defense based on First Amendment free speech and free press rights, but it would be a more difficult fight than that faced by newspapers that are specifically protected under state law. And bloggers typically don't have the resources that newspapers have to defend themselves against harassment-focused lawsuits.

The Texas Legislature -- perhaps even led by Truitt, since she has partly plowed this ground already -- should change state libel law so that fair reporting and comment about the acts of public officials are protected, no matter the medium of their publication.

Yes, that would be nice. It might even get us nasty and brutish bloggers to be complimentary to Rep. Truitt, which in turn might help unbunch the S-T editorial board's knickers a bit. Vince explores the matter further.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 13, 2006 to That's our Lege | TrackBack