Guevarra, Teresita: Bloggers and the Question on their Responsibility to Abide Media Ethics and Media Law

Abstract

For decades and even centuries, journalism has been manifested in different forms. Through time, as technology evolves, various mediums for journalism have emerged – from print, radio, television and the latest of them all, blogs.

Journalism, the profession of writing or communicating, formally employed by publications and broadcasters for the benefit of a particular community of people – has been the primary source of information for the society for so long. ( Wikipedia.com, n.a., n.d.,) However, journalism in its most traditional form is encountering one big problem today.  

“The print medium of newspaper is fading,” writes Marjorie and  Ford (1998) and with that comes the assumption that new media, particularly blogs, plays a big role in its decline. So now comes the big debate whether blogs can replace print media in its role in society and just how much do blogs influence the sociological and ethical aspects of journalism. But first of all, what are blogs?  

A weblog or blog (a derivative of “web” and “log”) is essentially an online diary, where anyone with a basic knowledge of computers can post anything – random thoughts, photos, homework, and poetry, just to name a few – for the rest of the world to see. (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d.)  

Even amidst all this hype, it is uncertain as to who actually invented or created the “first” blog. Some say it was Justin Hall, who began his proto-blog in 1994 while still a student at Swarthmore College and was termed the “forefather” of modern-day blogging. Others say that it is Tim-Berners-Lee, the credited inventor of the internet. (The World of Blogs,n.a., n.d)  Berners-Lee is also the Web 2.0 visionary. Biz Stone on the other hand, argues that the What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) services like Geocities are the first blogs, just with a different coding. (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d.,) 

Like its inventor, the origins of the term “weblog” are also uncertain. Most people consider Jorn Barger in December 1997 when he coined the term on his own blog. But the more popular term, “blog” was coined by Peter Merholz who broke the word weblog into the phrase “we  blog” in 1999.  The term “blog” became not only a household noun, but also as a verb. In March 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary included the terms “weblog”, “weblogging” and “weblogger” in its dictionary. Meriam- Webster Dictionary declared “blog” as the word of the year in 2004. (The World of blogs, n.a., n.d.) 

Its effect on the journalism industry was truly unexpected. There was a shocking growth of blogs in the network in the span of 1998 – 2004. From around 50 blogs it exploded to around 2.4 million to 4.1 million. These blogs are under categories such as, political, personal, business, health, literary, travel, legal, research, education and just about any topic you can think of. (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d.).With blogs addressing different topics and issues and with it being more accessible to the public, the reading public who was once reading newspapers, now read blogs instead as they feel more connected to it rather than the traditional print medium. Also, the newspaper industry finds it hard to attract younger readers. (Alia,V., 2004).  

Blogging has turned the world upside down because what used to be that the journalists were all out to please the newsconsumers, the newsconsumers are now considered the threat in journalism. (Rosen, J., 2005) 

With the advent of new technology, blogs have made their way to becoming one of the more sought after, read and popularized means of information. It is free, has a wider reach of audience and is more appealing to read. But then again, blogs the idea of blogs being an “online journal” and blogs being used as a form of citizen journalism still clashes. It then provokes the question on whether or not its writers — or who we call as bloggers should abide the media laws, those in the media practice follows. After all, blogs are public entities too.

FOREIGN

Defamation in the Philippines

Libel in the Philippines is a criminal offense that carries a penalty of imprisonment of six months to four years or a fine of $5.00 to $143.00 or both fine and imprisonment. Since the courts are given the discretion of imposing either imprisonment or fine, the courts in the past invariably imposed the penalty of imprisonment instead of fine.

Just recently, the Supreme Court issued a circular instructing all judges to give preference to the imposition of fine as penalty instead of imprisonment for those who will be convicted of libel.

Blogs as a Credible Source of Information

Though it defies the communication framework, blogs make the dissemination of news more effective and credible through the audience active participation (Rosen 2005). On the other hand, it’s a matter of trust whether or not one will take the blogger’s report on the news as a fact. There was a report that due to the increase in influence of blogs to consumers and audiences nowadays, there are even PR Practitioners who pay bloggers to alter or take down their posts which may be detrimental to their client’s reputation. (Bailey, 2004) The public is still advised to take proper precaution in what they read, and post as well. There are cases when people are fired from their jobs just because of their blogs. (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d., ). Readers should take proper precaution in reading blogs so not to be misled. Also, there should be no further argument on a blogger being called an amateur as there is also an amateur journalist. The question should not be based on the matter of trust but rather on the credibility.

Now let us talk about the ethical implications of blogging in relation to its readers, the public and the other people contributing to the external factors in journalism. Can blogs really be trusted the way people trust journalists? Because sometimes, even traditional journalists cannot be trusted anymore. (Bailey, 2003)

(Bailey, 2003) states that “They take time to discover. They take time to tune in to. Few merit this time. Yet the network has shown itself to be self-regulating. While the words published on any subject may be expanding, the blogs of trusted authors can help restore sense out of this confusion.”

In this anti-authoritarian culture, third party endorsement has more value and importance than ever before. Hence, the efforts of PR Practitioners to persuade journalists and opinion formers – even some bloggers—of their messages. (Bailey, 2003).

The newspaper industry is in trouble. We’re having trouble attracting younger readers. They are not interested in the stories we put on the front page, about ongoing breakdown of the Middle East Peace process, which has been breaking down for several thousand years now (Alia, 2004).

From Online Journal to Connecting People

Another supporting information on that matter is what (Bailey, 2003) in one of his articles says that weblogs has come a long way from being just a tool in promoting interaction in the World Wide Web. It is now playing a bigger role by connecting the public to media itself – just as Tim Berners-Lee aspired it to be. How are blogs doing it? Blogs has successfully defied what journalism is.

The simple fact is that you do not need a degree or a certificate to be a journalist these days. You just need to report the news. (Masnick, 2008). This is one advantage that blogs give to its users and readers.

Another reader, Cassie Lealamanua reveals how blogs have influenced her sociologically. She said that “Instead of paying to go to the shrink, you just log onto your blog and see what your friends say about things.” (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d.)

Disadvantages of Blogs – Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Having its advantages, blogs also has its disadvantages. In the world wide web, everything you write or post is accessible to the whole world. Therefore, it is more prone to plagiarism, a journalist’s greatest enemy.

That’s why in 1998, according to William Overbeck, there was a law passed in the United States called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which gives those who post materials on the net the responsibility of what they post and gives maximum legal protection to copyright owners and ISPs. This serves as protection from the unethical use of what bloggers post on the internet.

Blogging – Not Just Merely a Scientific Innovation

In a study recently conducted by the World of Blogs, they recommended that the focus on blogging be on a human activity rather than on scientific innovation. Sociologically, blogs has not only reshaped the way many people communicate, but also the manner in how they live in our “information age”. (The World of Blogs, n.a, n.d.)

More on the Sociological Effects of Blogging

From an article of Tim O’Reilley on how blogs are affecting people sociologically through creating an environment conducive to harnessing collective intelligence, he states that “If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but it is instead the equivalence of conscious thought. And as a reflecton of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.”( O’Reilley, 2005)

Blogging in Politics

Blogging has done words in reshaping politics, particularly in the West. The first blog-driven political controversy led to the eventual downfall of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who had remarked at a party honoring Senator Strom Thurmond, that Thurmond’s leadership abilities may have made him a good president. Since Thurmond had spent much of his early political career sympathetic to white supremacists, Lott’s statements were interpreted in the media to be racist. Consequently, in the aftermath, bloggers endeavored to demonstrate that his remarks were not an isolated misstatement by finding evidence including quotes from other previous speeches of Lott’s Intriguingly, the efforts of such bloggers not only kept the story alive in the press until a critical mass of disapproval forced Lott to resign from his position as Senate Majority Leader. It started a hailstorm of similar blogs which took on political agendas. (The World of Blogs, n.a., n.d.)

Blogging in Education

Blogs have also played a part in education. In his studies of blogs used in elementary and highschools in the United States, David Huffaker argues that blogs often provide opportunities for educators to advance literacy through storytelling and dialogue. Storytelling and literacy are the foundation of language development likewise, the foundation of learning. Since the format of blogs is similar to a personal diary, where recounting tales and autobiographical events is customary, blogs provide an arena for self-expression and creativity are encouraged. Its linkages to other bloggers establish the same peer-group relationships found in nonvirtual worlds. (The World of Blogs, n.a..,n.d.)

Blogs are not limited to individual classes or even entire schools, resonating the power of building online communities. According to his results, Huffaker argues that blogs should be used throughout the educational curriculum since they help promote reading and writing showcase the work of students or exchange ideas among students, teachers or school administrators.

Blogging VS. Journalism

According to Scott Rosenberg, “Typically, the debate about blogs today is framed as a duel to the death between old and new journalism. Many bloggers see themselves as a Web-borne vanguard, striking blows for truth-telling authenticity against the media – monopoly empire. Many newsroom journalists see bloggers as wannabe amateurs badly in need of some skills and some editors.” (Rosen, 2005)

On the other hand, Ken Sands believes that bloggers have greater advantage over journalists because, “In my experience it is easier to teach a blogger to be a good journalist than it is to teach a journalist to be a good blogger. Bloggers understand the social network (Niles, R., 2005)

However, Tim O’Reilley (2005) talks about this matter in a whole new different light when he said that while mainstream media may see individual blogs as competitors. He says further that it must also be taken into perspective not only a competition between blogs but also between business models. Web 2.0 is a world where the former audience also has a say on what matters (O’Reilley, 2005).

The aforementioned authors touched on who between the journalists and bloggers practice better work ethics. It also touched on the validity of the argument between blogging and journalism.

Now one might ask, does blogs really mean progress? Some people beg to argue. According to Shane Richmond (2004) there are still journalists, especially those who have been veterans in their field, who are against blogging as a form of reporting. And these journalists still are able to find loopholes – no matter how good the blog is—and publish their thoughts in their respective papers about it.

On the other hand, Jeff Peline (2003) believes that we are at a tipping point where mainstream media are beginning to embrace interactive media and features like blogs. (Niles, 2005). It is clearly evident that for him, blogs means progress.

Contrary to popular belief, the opinion of bloggers posted on the net about certain issues compliments traditional media, rather than serve as a threat to it. An example of a media company which benefited from this is BBC (Bailey, 2003).

In concluding this duel, Rosen (2005) would like to reiterate, that we should not be focused on the question whether blogs can be journalism, as this is not the case anymore due to the many traditional journalists shifting to blogging as its form of media and the many citizens favoring blogs over traditional media. It has become progress rather than competition for many.

LOCAL

Blogs as Means of Progress

According to Annalyn Jusay of the Manila Bulletin (2005), blogging in the Philippines is not yet as big a phenomenon as it is in the US where it has been used for a variety of purposes, such as in the presidential campaigns. However, this does not mean that Filipinos have been left behind in terms of exploring the benefits of this highly-evolving technology.

Victor Villanueva, would like to add in his interview with the Manila Bulletin why blogs are taking over the traditional forms of media, “I think blogs will become another venue for commentators to air their opinions. Instead na TV, radio or print lang ang mga pinagkukunan ng kuro-kuro ng mga tao, blogs will emerge as another source of opinions. Since it’s independent from corporate or major political structures or interests, “malaki ang potensyal ng blogs” to become a venue for more radical opinions “na hindi kayang ilabas ng TV, radio or print.”

Code of Ethics

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has created a set of codes which shall be abided by journalists, media practioners and the like. For reference, here is the copy of the Journalism Code of Ethics by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

I.
I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. I recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly. II. I shall not violate confidential information on material given me in the exercise of my calling.

II.
I shall not violate confidential information on material given me in the exercise of my calling.

III.
I shall resort only to fair and honest methods in my effort to obtain news, photographs and/or documents, and shall properly identify myself as a representative of the press when obtaining any personal interview intended for publication.

IV.
I shall refrain from writing reports that will adversely affect a private reputation unless the public interest justifies it. At the same time, I shall fight vigorously for public access to information.

V.
I shall not let personal motives or interests influence me in the performance of my duties, nor shall I accept or offer any present, gift or other consideration of a nature that may cast doubt on my professional integrity.

VI.
I shall not commit any act of plagiarism.

VII.
I shall not, in any manner, ridicule, cast aspersions on, or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.

VIII.
I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise. I shall exercise caution in publishing names of minors and women involved in criminal cases so that they may not unjustly lose their standing in society.

IX.
I shall not take unfair advantage of a fellow journalist.

X.
I shall accept only such tasks as are compatible with the integrity and dignity of my profession, invoking the “conscience clause” when duties imposed on me conflict with the voice of my conscience.

XI.
I shall conduct myself in public or while performing my duties as journalist in such manner as to maintain the dignity of my profession. When in doubt, decency should be my watchword.

Bloggers argue that since blogs are informal, they should not be required to abide by ethical standards followed by journalists. But since bloggers are considered citizens journalists and are asking for the same protection and privileges journalists get, many have argued otherwise.

Legal Implications of blogging in the Philippines

In the Philippines, there have been much argument whether or not bloggers are responsible to abide with the media ethics and laws imposed to media practitioners.

Under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice. [Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 61, 67] (http://www.abogadomo.com/lawprof_libel.html)

So what part of this law applies to blogs? The Warrior Lawyer, also known as Atty.Dado explained this in one of his blog articles:

“The libel must be given publicity, circulated or publicized. Postings in a forum, message board or blog can certainly be considered as publication. Lastly, the victim or offended party must be identifiable. (http://thewarriorlawyer.com/2007/02/20/libel-on-the-internet-under-philippine-law/)”

He further explained:

“Under Republic Act no. 8792, otherwise known as the Electronic Commerce Act, a party or person acting as a service provider incurs no civil or criminal liability in the making, publication, dissemination or distribution of libelous material if: a) the service provider does not have actual knowledge, or is not aware of the facts or circumstances from which it is apparent that making, publication, dissemination or distribution of such material is unlawful or infringes any rights; b) the service provider does not knowingly receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity; c) the service provider does not directly commit any infringement or other unlawful act and does not induce or cause another person or party to commit any infringement or other unlawful act and/or does not benefit financially from the infringing activity or unlawful act of another person or party (Section 30, in relation to Section 5, E-Commerce Law)

Hence, a service provider should not be held liable if he has no actual knowledge of the libel, does not benefit financially from the unlawful act or does not directly commit the libelous act or induce someone to do so. Of course, once the service provider gains actual knowledge of the libel, timely steps must be taken, within the service provider’s authority, to remove the offending material by warning the perpetrator and, if all else fails, terminating the offender’s account. By acting speedily on the matter, the service provider shows good faith and that it does not condone the libelous acts.” (Dado., 2004)

Cases when blogs and service providers were held liable for their content

There have been several reported cases wherein people got in trouble because of what they posted in their blogs. One of them was reported in a recent article by Kate Murphy of Agence-France Presse wherein it was written that a real estate agent in Houston who wrote about Anna Nicole Smith in her blog got jailed for contempt. It was said that Anna Nicole’s Smith mother filed the case against the blogger.

Furthermore, Murphy writes:

“Lawsuits against bloggers in the United States have been doubling every year since 2004 with $15 million in judgments so far against them, according to Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association.”

“A lot of bloggers think of themselves as individuals or maybe writers but in the courts, they are considered a publisher,” Cox said.

His organization has created an online course with Harvard Law School, City of New York School of Journalism and News University at the Poynter Institute at Northwestern University to educate bloggers about their legal rights and responsibilities.

“A lot of these cases could have been avoided if things had been worded just a little differently or if they had double sourced their information,” Cox said.

“Most of the time, these people are not trained journalists.”

“With Google alerts and rss feeds, it’s a lot easier to monitor what’s being said about you,” said Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University.

Moreover, the technology exists to find anonymous bloggers.

“People can find you,” said Cox at the Media Blogger Association, which this year began offering its members legal expenses insurance for an annual fee of $540 for $100,000 of coverage.

The majority of cases against bloggers are for defamation but they are also frequently sued for copyright infringement and invasion of privacy. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/infotech/view/20090601-208211/Blogger-jailed-in-defamation-suit)

There have also been a reported case here in the Philippines involving the E-commerce law. Abe Olandres, the blogger behind Yugatech.com and who also runs a small start-up web hosting in the country, got involved in a suit that was supposed to only be filed to the members of the forum they use to host.

Here is the exact statement from Olandres himself:

“I run a fairly small start-up web hosting here in the Philippines. One of our former clients runs a forum that we used to host. Several members of that forum were throwing vindictives against a their former employer. That employer sent us a demand letter thru their law firm demanding that we terminate the site or be charged with libel as well. The client moved out from us the following day. However, the employer/complainant has now filed several libel law suits against us claiming that we are the owner of the domain and the operator of the site. The site is still up and running though hosted somewhere else, the domain was also transferred away from us. Still, the complainant is alleging we should have enforced some sort of regulations or control over the content when it was still with us.” (http://racoma.com.ph/archives/help-out-a-fellow-pinoy-blogger)

In this case, the question was if the case is still valid considering that the client has already moved out. And how the E-commerce law applies in this situation.

Conclusion

Bloggers have different purposes for creating blogs, but no matter how subjective or objective their blogs may be, nonetheless, they should abide by the libel law and e-commerce law as blogs are considered public.

Following all the code of ethics for journalists are not necessary for bloggers to do. However, observance of their own personal ethics in dealing with the public and being tactful with what they write is best. In the end, it all boils down to common sense.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Books: 

  • Alia, V. (2004). Media ethics and social change.  George Square: Edinburgh University Press 
  • Ford, M., Ford, J.(1998). Mass culture and electronic media. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company  
  • Overbeck, W. (2004). Major principles of media law. Belmont, Canada: Wadsworth 

Internet Sources: 

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