Bloggers gone bad: criminal penalty for libel considered

Bloggers gone bad: criminal penalty for libel considered-attachment0

A newly introduced Internet Libel Act in the N.C. Senate — SB 46 — would make it a potential civil and criminal (Class 2 misdemeanor) offense for libelous or slanderous material to originate in the state or be received or viewed in the state via the Internet. The bill, which has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, was filed by WNC’s Sen. Steve Goss, an ordained Baptist minister from Boone who is serving his second term in the General Assembly.

The bill was immediately and “strongly” opposed by the North Carolina Press Association, according to Executive Director Beth Grace, who told Xpress by e-mail: “This flies in the face of 200 years of free speech tradition in this state. We cannot and should not penalize citizens just for blogging or e-mailing something the government doesn’t like.” Meanwhile, The News & Observer’s political “Under the Dome” blog reported that Goss — despite the bill’s text — said inclusion of criminal penalties was “an oversight.” His quoted rationale in filing the bill: “We need to make sure that we’re keeping up with technology,” he said. “I believe these blogs are getting out of control.”

The Media Law Resource Center defines libel and slander as “legal claims for false statements of fact about a person that are printed, broadcast, spoken or otherwise communicated to others.” Its Web site notes that these are normally civil claims, with only a “handful of states” recognizing an action for criminal defamation. “Prosecutions are rare, especially against the media.” (MLRC publishes a 50-state survey of media and privacy law.)

North Carolina, however, happens to be one of the states that holds a criminal statute for libel (GS 14-47), applicable to print media. The statute, which has been on the books in some form since 1901, states: “If any person shall state, deliver or transmit by any means whatever, to the manager, editor, publisher or reporter of any newspaper or periodical for publication therein any false and libelous statement concerning any person or corporation, and thereby secure the publication of the same, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

Goss’ bill does offer an easy out to avoid either criminal or civil penalty — and one that might save the courts some trouble. It states that before any civil or criminal action is brought, “the plaintiff or prosecutor shall first give the person alleged to be responsible for communicating the libelous or slanderous material at least five days to correct the libelous or slanderous material.”

Nelda Holder, associate editor

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28 thoughts on “Bloggers gone bad: criminal penalty for libel considered

  1. Piffy!

    “This flies in the face of 200 years of free speech tradition in this state. We cannot and should not penalize citizens just for blogging or e-mailing something the government doesn’t like.”

    What a ridiculous statement. It seems to wish to imply that anything contrary to the state’s official line could be labeled “libelous”. This is obviously untrue. Would Ms Grace also claim the same “right” of libelous speech for the print media in the state? Of course not.

  2. “legal claims for false statements of fact about a person that are printed, broadcast, spoken or otherwise communicated to others.”

    A law like that could put a real hurtin’ on the right wing noise machine, especially on the internet.

  3. rebel

    yes, it might also protect regular hard working people from untrue, unfair attacks from others meant to hurt them or their businesses- there are cyber stalkers out there- and there is currently no way to protect yourself or your business from them and they know it. expressing your opinion is free speech…making up lies and distributing them about people is simply wrong. i’m sure if the nc press association suddenly were blasted on blogs about how they don’t support free speech, and were a bunch of liars, they’d want to be able to take some action to stop it.

  4. CrustyBee

    “A law like that could put a real hurtin’ on the right wing noise machine, especially on the internet”.

    Care to cite any examples?

  5. “A law like that could put a real hurtin’ on the right wing noise machine, especially on the internet”.

    Care to cite any examples?

    The most recent example: Obama is a Muslim and not a natural born citizen.

  6. travelah

    These are things that have been the domain of civil courts between parties. What possible interest does the state have in libel actions between individuals??

  7. CrustyBee

    “The most recent example: Obama is a Muslim and not a natural born citizen.”

    One of my closest friends is an Iranian Muslim who recently earned his American citizenship. He doesn’t consider it slander to be mistaken for a Christian when he takes his wife to the Methodist Church. Since when is being called a Muslim considered slander? If you called me Canadian I don’t think I would press charges either…well, I won’t go that far.

  8. Piffy!

    “Since when is being called a Muslim considered slander? ”

    When the context and intention is obviously to spread disinformation, then yes, it could be considered “slander” in my opinion.

    Are you really claiming to not see the difference, or just playing devil’s advocate?

    Much of the Right Wings disinformation machine relies on being able to communicate outright lies without any repercussion, capitalizing on people’s desire to believe whatever they read. They call this “Free Speech”, hiding behind the First Amendment like little cowards instead of arguing a point based on verifiable truth.

    I’m sure those who depend on being able to spread lies will claim this is the state trying to control free speech, but it appears to me that it would just force the same standards that newspapers must follow to the blogs and talk radio.

  9. travelah

    1.Who in the mythical “right wing disinformation machine” promoted the idea that Obama was a Muslim?

    2. Since when have newspapers or television been subject to state prosecution for libel or slander?

    Are you not engaging in the very thing you accuse other Americans of doing?

  10. Piffy!

    Really, so Rush Limbaugh and other am talk radio bigots havent made that claim for the past year?

    You must listen to a different Rush Limbaugh than I do.

    Please.

    You know, travelah is a transvestite Athiest. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If he would just come out and prove he isnt, this controversy would go away.

  11. travelah

    If you cannot substantiate your claim with evidence, why make the charge? As for myself, I do not listen to Limbaugh much at all but it is interesting that you spend your time doing so.
    The questions remain.

    1.Who in the mythical “right wing disinformation machine” promoted the idea that Obama was a Muslim?

    2. Since when have newspapers or television been subject to state prosecution for libel or slander?

    Are you not engaging in the very thing you accuse other Americans of doing?

  12. CrustyBee

    PFKaP(or whatever)-

    you hurl your epithets with such alacrity yet, at the same time, your whining about the slanderous habits of “the right wing disinformation machine”. Grow some respect, for others as well as yourself, and try to maintain some semblance of civility when challenged by those who don’t see eye to eye with you.

    I almost laugh myself out of my chair every time I hear the left make remarks similar to those in your previous posts. All I can think about is Dan Rather. Now there’s an American who knows how to conduct a little character assassination.

    And by the way, thank you for keeping the conversation relevant!

  13. Piffy!

    Yes, Dan Rather sure did “spread lies”.

    I suppose your idea of journalistic integrity is Sean Hannity?

  14. travelah

    Aside from the fact that Hannity does not represent himself as a journalist but as a political commentator and activist instead, what does Hannity have to do with the journalistic failures of Rather?

  15. John

    Watching those with Fox Derangement Syndrome is funny. The MSM is primarily left and still hides behind the title of ‘journalist’ even though they cheer lead their candidate. Hannity, Beck and O’Reilly clearly identify themselves as opinion. The left wants to squach opinion other than theirs.

  16. Piffy!

    Whether or not the “MainStream Media” is “left” would have a lot to do with where you stand, obviously. To refer to “left” and “right” as a position, instead of a direction, is certainly misleading. You may be “Right” of NBC and still be very far “Left” of many others.

    I will also agree with you, John, that Fox “News” is primarily an “entertainment” network and not actually a “News” source. Good point.

    So, Steve, do you really think this would never stand up in court?

  17. John

    PF – you have made it abundantly clear that you stand very, very, very, very far to the left and that most on the left are to your right. Unfortunately for you and fortunately for most folks, your position on the political spectrum doesn’t represent much of society.

    Back to your Fox Derangement Syndrome, Fox does news too, they just don’t pretend that their opinion is news the way the other networks do.

  18. Maybe one day it will be considered libelous and slanderous to call someone

    “an ordained Baptist minister from Boone who is serving his second term in the General Assembly”

    I dream for the day…

  19. travelah

    Back to your Fox Derangement Syndrome, Fox does news too, they just don’t pretend that their opinion is news the way the other networks do.

    Well stated

  20. CrustyBee

    In response to your comment/question:”I suppose your idea of journalistic integrity is Sean Hannity?”, Nah, but I don’t recall him asking anyone to hold him in such high regard.

    Sadly, the light of “journalistic integrity” is fading rapidly; we are now in the age of “opinion-based news”. Bottom line…it sells. Gone are the days of sitting down to the six o’clock news and getting your daily dose of the gospel according to a news anchor/editor. The sooner we all realize that, the better off we’ll be. But don’t despair, the vast majority of the voting public in this country do not emulate 13 year olds; we don’t “desire to believe whatever [we] read”. We have learned to filter out the agenda-driven crap and laugh at the extremists’ views. But back to the meat of this issue: the debate over the merits of SB46…

    I hesitate asking this, but it may help lure you away from your obvious support of protectionism. Go to the link below and catch up on the following two Boone, NC forums(there getting old but you can find them easily enough): “port christopher” and “Poll: rate boone rest[aurant]s”. Now, I’m not suggesting that this has anything to do with Mr. Goss’s motivation for proposing such a bill but I would wager he’s familiar with the Topix forums, if not these specific ones.

    http://www.topix.com/forum/city/boone-nc

    After reading through the first dozen, or so, posts you’ll begin to see a pattern developing with regard to a particular restaurant, which I won’t name here. Once your current on the posts, ask yourself these questions:

    1. Would SB46 have an impact on these particular forums?

    2. If so, who would it protect and who would it penalize? Would that be acceptable?

    3. Do we really want our state legislators to go down this path?

    4. How can this proposed piece of legislation fairly, and equitably, protect the rights of all NC citizens while not compromising the First Amendment.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I am very familiar with the restaurant in question, as well as the owner. Consequently, I don’t care to voice my personal views here. However, it does make me wonder, in cases like this, will money, power and influence be the criteria on which to decide who will reap the benefits of such a bill.

    Are we going to let our legislators, and those who have their ear, convince us that the internet is a spooky demon, poised to destroy innocent Americans?

  21. CrustyBee

    PF-

    I knew it! My “aim” was too high and I overshot the target. Plus, I should have included some insults to keep you focused.

    Piece of advice, if I may: If you’re going to invoke God in your posts, at least use upper case for the noun. Now, this may seem trivial to someone of your questionable morals, but to many it can be offensive, if not abject ignorance!

    And a final note before retiring from this thread to search for more meaningful discussion: Do you have an opinion on everything? After reading some of the other topics, that seems to be the case, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, at least, consider the positions of the other boarders before jotting down the first thing that comes to your simple mind and hitting submit. Spell checker is also a useful tool!

    Adios, tonto

  22. Piffy!

    It must be frustrating for a kindergartner to swim during adult hours.

    Back to Topix with you, then, sir.

  23. Michael Roberts of Rexxfield.com

    I believe that federal supremacy would overrule the liability aspects of ISPs to republish or act as conduits to libelous material. (Section 230 C. of the information communications decency act).

    Notwithstanding, I don’t see any reason why there should not be criminal penalties for malicious antagonist to purposefully and deliberately set out to destroy the career, business, reputation, relationships, and emotional well-being of another. Why should it be any different to burning down a barn? The effect is ultimately the same when it comes to the effects of the victim’s livelihood. Actually, in some states I think you can still be hung for burning down somebody’s barn.

    Until someone has experienced firsthand, or through someone they love, the debilitating effects of a relentless and persistent Internet smear campaign, they simply cannot relate to the pain it causes.

    Regards, Michael Roberts. Internet libel victim’s advocate
    http://www.Rexxfield.com

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