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The Right to Blog: why we need to protect bloggers as well as traditional media

Tunisian blogger Olfa Riahi appears before a court in January 2013 after posting information on the alleged misuse of public funds by a public official
Tunisian blogger Olfa Riahi appears before a court in January 2013 after posting information on the alleged misuse of public funds by a public official

Demotix/Chedly Ben Ibrahim

On 3 May 2013, at the UNESCO World Press Freedom International Conference 2013, ARTICLE 19 launched The Right to Blog - a new policy paper that calls for lawmakers to better promote and protect the rights of bloggers domestically and internationally. The Right to Blog also gives practical advice to bloggers about their rights and explains how - and in what situations - they can invoke some of the privileges and defences that traditional journalists have found vital to the integrity of their work.

"Blogging plays an invaluable role in the free flow of information worldwide and is a true example of the democratisation of publishing in the online world," said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"In the 21st century, many bloggers will take their place as watchdogs, alongside traditional media. The international community and individual states must develop protection for bloggers, just as they have developed protection for traditional media. Similar protection must be provided to bloggers. ARTICLE 19's policy, The Right to Blog, offers recommendations on how this should be done in practice," added Callamard.

Over the last two decades, the Internet has transformed the way in which we communicate. Where the printed press and broadcast media were once the main sources of information, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to publish ideas, information and opinions to the entire world instantly.

Blogging and social media now rival newspapers and television as dominant sources of news and information. The emergence of these new forms of online expression has called into question the very definition of 'journalism' and 'media' in the digital age.

Difficult questions have been raised. How can the activities of bloggers be reconciled to existing models of media regulation? Should bloggers be held to the same professional and ethical standards expected of a professional journalist? In what circumstances can bloggers be held liable for what they say online? Should bloggers benefit from the kinds of protection programmes that are usually available to professional journalists in order to prevent them from being physically attacked? How would this work?

The Right to Blog answers these and other complex questions through drawing on international standards of freedom of expression.

The Right to Blog argues that it is no longer appropriate to define journalism and journalists by reference to some recognised body of training, or affiliation with a news entity or professional body. International human rights law must protect bloggers just as it protects journalists.

The policy suggests ways to address the key issues that bloggers are likely to face, including:
* Licensing
* Real-name registration (in contrast to anonymity)
* Accreditation
* The protection of sources
* Protection from violence
* Legal liability
* Ethical responsibility

Why is The Right to Blog important?


The need for The Right to Blog policy is heightened by many cases of recent violations of bloggers rights.

* In Brazil, ARTICLE 19 documented cases of violence against journalists and human rights defenders. The most serious cases of violence against journalists were directed towards people who were writing for popular blogs (44%). Among those cases was the murder of blogger Décio Sáon on 23 April 2012 in São Luís. Sáon denounced the relationships between moneylenders and local politicians in his blog. Other bloggers who received death threats in 2012 include Neto Ferreira, Gilberto Leda, Júlio César de Lima Prates, Gerlice Nunes, Armando Anache and Marcio Rangel.

* In Tunisia, in March 2013, Olfa Riahi, a blogger and a university professor, was charged with criminal defamation and the offence of "harming others or disrupting their lives through public communication networks" after posting information about alleged misuse of public funds by a former foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, before he stepped down from the post. She is facing a penalty of one to two years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000 dinars (app. £450).

* In Bangladesh, blogger Asif Mohiuddin, whose blog won the best social activism blog from the Deutsche Welle Best of Blogs Awards 2012, was brutally attacked by unknown perpetrators in January 2013. The police later found out that he was attacked for his writing on the instruction of a religious extremist. In March 2013, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission requested somewhereinblog.net - the largest blogging platform in Bangladesh - to remove Mohiuddin blog from their side. The platform complied with the request.

* In Chad, Jean Laokolé, author of one of the most popular blogs in the country, was arrested in March 2013 by the security forces in N'Djamena, the Chadian capital. He has been held without trial in an undisclosed location ever since. On his blog, Laokolé repeatedly criticized corruption, poor governance and nepotism in the country.

Download the policy brief:
a19_right_to_blog_en.pdf (203 KB)

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