Friday, September 24, 2004

Journalists, Blogs and Freedom of Speech

Journalists, Blogs and Freedom of Speech



Here is a case for 1st Amendment buffs.



It is a posting from The Sciolist, a newspaper employee who exercises editorial functions and whose blogging has effectively been prohibited - as one can read below.



"Got this in my work mailbox today. Hand delivered.



'----- Newspaper policy on personal Web sites and Web logs (blogs)



Editorial staffers (editors, reporters, and photographers) may operate personal Web sites, Web logs (blogs) or chat rooms only with the prior approval of their editor. Such Web sites, blogs and chat rooms may not contain content dealing in any way with the subject areas that the employees cover or reasonably might be expected to cover. The editor may withdraw approval of an editorial staffer's operation of a Web site, blog or chat room at any time.



It is especially important that editorial staffers do not express personal opinions - on their Web sites or in their blogs or chat rooms - on news subjects or issues that they cover. Such publication of personal opinion casts doubt on their impartiality, ultimately calling into question the newspaper's commitment to fairness.



Editorial staffers who operate their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms may not use ----- Newspaper computers or other office facilities for that purpose. They may not work on their Web sites, blogs or chat rooms during office work hours.



Editorial staffers who operate their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms are not permitted to trade on their newspaper positions. They may not lingk [sic] their personal sites, blogs or chat rooms to the ----- Newspapers' Web site nor to ------ Newspapers' articles. Personal Web sites, blogs or chat rooms may not use column names or any other identifying information or wording that connects the writer to ----- Newspapers.



Editorial staffers who have their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms must notify their newspaper editor of the existence and the address of these Web publications. Staff members and correspondents agree that ----- Newspapers can access and review these personal Web sites, blogs or chat rooms at any time. Editorial staffers will, when requested to do so, provide reasonable assistance to ----- Newspapers in retrieving any archived or deleted materials from such Web sites, blogs or chat rooms.



An editorial staffer who violates this policy will face disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.'



Well, that's the end of the line for me. Since I often sit at the wire desk and make decisions about which national and international news stories get published in the next day's edition of the ------ ------, the line about "may not contain content dealing in any way with the subject areas that the employees cover or reasonably might be expected to cover" precludes me from writing about current events in any form.



It's been nice knowing you all."




Is this a case for the ACLU?



If employers can permit or forbid the expression of "personal opinions" outside the work place, then is freedom of speech effectively at an end? Most people work for someone, do they not? Good reasons why an employee should not express his or her personal opinions outside of the workplace can always be found by any employer, in any industry, in any profession, in any job.



We are amused by the justifications alleged for this newspaper's policy which are phrased as follows:



... publication of personal opinion casts doubt on ... impartiality, ultimately calling into question the newspaper's commitment to fairness.



Frankly, we have yet to read ANY impartial newspaper or one that shows any perceptible "commitment to fairness", whatever that may be viewed to be. Every news media has its own political direction and its own particular agenda. Most readers, in fact, know what that agenda is and choose their newspaper accordingly.



Is this newspaper's policy unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?



We think it is unconstitutional as a prior restraint on the freedom of speech.



Your opinion?

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