Reading Mr. Justice Eady's full judgment in the case of 'The author of a blog and Times Newspapers Ltd.' (a.k.a. The Night Jack case), has inspired in me an optimistic thought, viz. the ruling draws a potentially valuable distinction between professional reporters and bloggers. I suspect this was not Mr Justice Eady's top priority. In fact he writes that "Although the Claimant [Night Jack] here is not a journalist, the function he performs via his blog is closely analogous." However, by ruling that "blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity" and that there is a "public interest in revealing that a particular police officer has been making these communications," his argument does tend to reinforce the status of the professional reporter. Why?
Because if a professional reporter were approached by a police officer or other public servant who wished to reveal evidence of wrongdoing in a public service, and if that police officer (or other public servant) obtained a promise that the reporter would protect his identity, there is at least a possibility that the courts would uphold the reporter's right to protect his source. Folllowing Mr Justice Eady's judgment there is scant likelihood that a public servant who revealed wrongdoing via a blog would be equally well protected against exposure. My conclusion: if you are a whistleblower with an important tale to tell about wrongdoing in your profession or place of employment, you are better off taking your evidence to a professional reporter than blogging about it yourself on the internet. If you blog you will be exposed. If you let the reporter tell the story there is a real possibility that you might perform a public service without being disciplined or sacked. It is not perfect. I would prefer rock solid legal protection for all public-spirited whistleblowers . But it does suggest an area of activity that is clearly in the public interest in which real reporters retain an edge over self-publishing amateur bloggers. In the course of his judgment Mr Justice Eady cites a previous judgment in which Mr Justice Cross observed, forty four years ago, that the, "Freedom to report the truth is a precious thing both for the liberty of the individual (the libertarian principle) and for the sake of wider society (the democratic principle),.."Amen to that, and how pleasing that this judge who has been so active in developing the relationship between privacy, probity and the public interest should reveal such clear understanding of journalism's social value.