Cameron Slater’s blog Whale Oil has been found to not meet the Evidence Act’s definition of “news medium” – meaning he doesn’t get to claim the right to protect his sources’ identities.
The Evidence Act defines “news medium” as
a medium for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observations on news
From the Herald report:
Wellington media lawyer Steven Price said the thrust of the Law Commission’s report was that bloggers who were serving the functions of free speech and a free press should be treated as media and be entitled to media privileges.
“Still, it is concerned that the reporting be dispassionate and reliable. It can be argued that Whale Oil doesn’t measure up on that criterion.”
This point really interests me, because I think there’s a big grey area if you look at the whole range of blogs and bloggers in New Zealand. And what about looking at group blogs as a whole vs. at the work of individual posts or posters? At any one time on the front page The Standard you could have a serious, info-dumping post from lprent on climate change, full of citations and graphs. Sure, he’s obviously pushing a certain agenda, but is that enough to rule the post out as “news”? On the other hand, it could be sitting next to a post from me or Zetetic which is a big opiniony rant. But if opiniony rants mean The Standard as a whole isn’t media, what about the Herald, which publishes Bob Jones on a regular basis, and daily anonymous editorials?
Do Public Address and Pundit count more as “news media” because their authors are (I believe) all writing under their legal names, and because many of them are often quoted or relied on for comment by traditional media?
If we treat the media-blog divide as a spectrum, where’s the line in the era of Stuff Nation?
Do I think Whale Oil should count as news media? Probably not. Neither should Ideologically Impure, for that matter. Highly partisan and personally abusive? Fuck yes. But when Keith Ng breaks a national news story at PA? I think that’s news.
The irony is that one of the reasons the line is blurred, and one reason Slater may sincerely believe he qualifies as a “journalist” for the purposes of the Evidence Act, is that our undeniably-mainstream media keep using him as a source. When the Len Brown affair broke on Whale Oil, Stephen Cook was frequently referred to as a “journalist” (which is again confounded by the fact that he has worked as a “proper” journalist) in the media.
I don’t have any answers. But I think this judgement is going to be an interesting, early data point in what has to be an ongoing discussion about where blogs and media sit in relation to each other.