Could bloggers be sued for telling the truth?Posted on Thu Feb 19 2009
Well, maybe not, according to a new court decision that could leave countless bloggers and other citizen journalists exposed to libel suits for true statements.
In a bulletin posted today, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said a federal appellate court "took a unique approach to libel law by ruling that true statements can be libelous if published maliciously."
The case is Noonan v. Staples. It deals with a Staples employee whose firing for travel and expense violations was announced via executive e-mail to 1,500 employees. Alan Noonan did not question the truth of the e-mail, but he claimed it was libelous because it was sent with malicious intent.
The issue is far from settled. But the fact that it could now go before a jury has sparked serious concerns among First Amendment activists, who call it "the most dangerous libel decision in decades."
So why is this such bad news for bloggers? Because the court's decision drew a distinction between libel rules for "public figures" (ie, anyone featured in a mainstream news publication) and libel rules for everyone else.
The Reporters Committee bulletin offers this ominous quote from Rob Bertsche, a prominent First Amendment attorney in Boston:
"That's because the mainstream media may be protected, at least haphazardly, by an assumption that if The Boston Globe writes about a topic, then by definition the topic is one of public concern. But no such presumption is likely to protect an outspoken blogger's critical remarks.”