Marquette Warrior: <EM>Journal Sentinel</EM> On Attempts to Regulate Bloggers

Monday, January 30, 2006

Journal Sentinel On Attempts to Regulate Bloggers

From the Journal Sentinel, the story we knew would be forthcoming, on attempts to regulate bloggers.

(We obviously did not do brilliant investigative reporting to know this. The reporter, Lisa Sink, called us for comment when she was working on the piece.)

The story is very much pro-free speech for bloggers, either because Sink leans in that direction, or because she could find few if any people who didn’t see a threat in attempts to regulate bloggers.

Not only are we quoted saying that blogs are entitled to the press exemption that protects the Journal Sentinel and The Progressive from regulation, but three left-leaning bloggers agreed with us.

In one case, the statement was pretty bizarre. Bill Christofferson said that blogs should be covered by the press exemption. That’s fair enough, but Christofferson is the fellow who wanted to use the law to shut up Charlie Sykes when Sykes ran pro-school choice ads on his radio talk show. Yet broadcasters are explicitly covered by the press exemption.

Some good news cames from the State Elections Board:
The Wisconsin State Elections Board has never had to opine on whether bloggers are subject to campaign finance reporting but would probably regard them as news media, said the board’s executive director, Kevin Kennedy.

“This activity is sort of at the core of standing on the soapbox in the park,” said George Dunst, the board’s legal counsel.
But unfortunately, some people can be pretty slow on this issue.
The chairman of the state Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, Rep. Stephen Freese (R-Dodgeville), said he believed not all blogs are regulation free.

“It depends on what their purpose is,” Freese said. “If the blog is created to advocate the election or defeat of someone, they should [be regulated]. If it is solely a newsgathering organization, then that’s much different.”
Freese needs to study some American history. As Wilson and DiIulio put it in their standard American politics textbook:
In the early years of the Republic, politicians of various factions and parties created, sponsored, and controlled newspapers to further their interests. . . . Naturally these newspapers were relentlessly partisan in their views. Citizens could choose among different party papers, but only rarely could they find a paper that presented both sides of an issue. (American Government, 9th Edition, pp. 252-253.
Nothing about the First Amendment, which was drafted and approved by the generation that set up a staunchly partisan press, exempts biased outlets or attempts to elect a certain candidate from protection.

And even giving government the power to decide what is biased, or what the “purpose” of a media outlet is, is dangerous.

(If a blog is actually set up by a political campaign or party, it can be regulated the way any other campaign activity is. That is, expenditures on a campaign blog have to be disclosed, just as expenditures on printing leaflets have to be disclosed. No government officials should ever be able to dictate what either the blog or the leaflets say, nor ever tell any campaign to spend more or less on one or the other activity.)

On the whole, this is good news for free speech in the blogosphere. Not only are both liberal and conservative bloggers on the side of the angels, but the regulators aren’t inclined to step into this briar patch.


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