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It Can Happen Here

December 19th, 2002 - 9:40 am

Norah Vincent, writing in the LA Times, has some thoughts on the blogger libel suit in Australia:

Though libel law has always applied to Web content, most bloggers have flown beneath the radar, making it possible to disseminate their sometimes injudicious remarks with virtual impunity. And most of the time that has been a good thing because, unlike in the gated confines of print newspapers and magazines whose hand-picked and bowdlerized letters sections abrogate reader feedback, anybody can participate in public debate on the Net. One-man bands such as Instapundit, Kausfiles, andrewsullivan.com and a hundred smaller operations are spicing the debate, keeping the media powers honest and putting our free press through its paces.

But there’s a flip side to this. As much as the blogosphere is full of brave and vital input, it’s also full of the careless, mad and sometimes vengeful ravings of half-wits who will say anything, especially about established journalists and writers, just to attract more attention to their sites. This can get ugly when content is unregulated.

Begging the question, who or what is to do the regulating?

Sadly, Norah’s own blog remains under the table. A victim, perhaps, of the same forces she half-praises?

I shouldn’t get on Norah’s case about this, really. I respect her as a person, writer, and a thinker. She’s right that libel law should and must apply to the blogosphere, especially as more people tune out the major media, and tune into more personal news sources.

But I still don’t understand why and American writer should be held to Australian (or French, or Chinese) libel standards, something that would never be allowed to happen to an American newspaper or cable station.

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