The statement below is issued in response to a document that has been circulating around the state today. The document (.pdf) is a memorandum of recommendations by a Texas Ethics Commission task force for potential recommendations the agency may elect to make to the Texas Legislature.
Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance, issued the following statement concerning the Texas Ethics Commission’s recently distributed recommendation concerning blogs.
For a state agency that twice ruled it was appropriate for a trustee of the Texas Employee Retirement System to disclose a monetary gift from swiftboater Bob Perry as simply a “check,” to suggest that blogs should be subject to regulation is absurd.
Blogs are a form of political communication that should, by and large, remain unregulated. Independent citizen journalists and bloggers perform a valuable function in the political arena by prompting and promoting political discourse–on both sides of the aisle.
It is my hope that the Texas Legislature, in addressing this issue, will determine it is in the best interest of free speech to leave blogs alone. Blogs and bloggers should not be subject to political advertising regulations. Blogs clearly operated by political campaigns on campaign websites, or the blogs of political action committees, would be the singular exceptions to this rule.
One concern, however, with regard to encouraging the Legislature to adopt regulations similar to the FEC rules on blogs, does arise. Bloggers and citizen journalists in Texas do not yet have protection under the Privileged Matters Clause of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code, and currently aren’t treated on equal footing with the traditional media by Texas Law.
The “Privileged Matters” clause of Chapter 73 of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code (found at Sec. 73.002) protects newspapers and other forms of media from, among other things, libel lawsuits when it comes to “reasonable and fair comment on or criticism of an official act or public official or other matter of public concern published for general information.” Under a strict interpretation of this section, bloggers and citizen journalists operating on their own aren’t protected.
In addition, any bill the Legislature may consider as a result of this TEC recommendation must be carefully drafted to avoid a couple of pitfalls. Number one, because an independent citizen journalist or blogger accepts advertising on their site, they shouldn’t be subject to any different set of rules than a blogger who doesn’t accept paid advertising. Number two, the Texas Legislature should consider appropriate action to ensure that responsible bloggers operating under the protection of a pseudonym are adequately protected. One Texas appeals court has already noted just how important allowing bloggers to keep their anonymity is to the “exchange of ideas and robust debate on matters of public concern.”
If the legislature wants to consider regulating us–in any form–then they need to protect us. The Legislature considering, based on the TEC proposal, regulating blogs while not giving us statutory protection under the Privileged Matters Clause is putting the cart before the horse.”
The Texas Progressive Alliance (TexRoots.org) is the largest coalition of state-level political bloggers in America, representing more than 50 of Texas most widely read and highly respected political bloggers and citizen journalists.
Source / Burnt Orange Report