Last week, the Russian Parliament passed a law creating a new legal term for some independent journalists: “Internet user called blogger.”
The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reports that “bloggers will be obliged to declare their family name and initials and e-mail address, and those authors whose personal website or page in social networks are visited more than 3,000 times per day must register on a special list, and abide by restrictions applicable to the mass media.”
Registered bloggers, like all media in Russia, would be subject to libel laws, and would be prohibited from posting pornography and/or obscene language. Human Rights Watch reports, “Bloggers could also be held responsible for any comments posted by third parties on their website or social media page.”
An initial violation of the new law would result in a fine between $300-1000, with a second violation resulting in a one-month take-down of the website. Russell Brandom from TheVerge.com reports, “While the restrictions are severe, the law is also surprisingly easy to circumvent, since it does not apply to blogs hosted [on a server outside of Russia],” adding, “Many critics also believe the law may be struck down by Russia’s constitutional court as a violation of the country’s provisions for free speech … [one critic said] ‘The real purpose of the bill is to prevent any criticism of the authorities.’”
If the law is intended to prevent criticism of authorities, there is no real freedom of speech. However, there is something to be said about extending journalistic protections to people who are not members of the mainstream media. In the US, these protections include “shield laws,” which currently exist in 48 states. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill (The Free Flow of Information Act) to codify these protections at the federal level, however, USNews reports, “Schumer’s well-intentioned bill would exclude an entire class of reporters who play a vital role in delivering news to their communities.”
Schumer’s bill would likely not give protection to reporters such as Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The bill also tries to define the journalistic profession, instead of extending coverage to journalistic activities which “include, but are not limited to, interviewing sources, conducting research and photography and videography with the intent of publishing a story in print or online or reporting on radio or television.”
If there is to be a freedom of the press, which the U.S. Constitution supposedly recognizes, the freedoms and protections of the press should be extended to everyone who considers themselves a member of the media, regardless of how that person makes their living.