Who are you calling a journalist? Can one form of communication command special protection?
A critical chasm lies between sociological study and legal practice. Sociological studies of journalism focus on its role, functions, culture and history (Conboy, 2002, 2004; McNair, 1998, 2000, 2003; Schudson, 2002). Legal studies focus on the effects of legislation and litigation (Robertson and Nicol, 2002; Walker, 2004). Brief studies have attempted to define ‘journalist’ (Clay, 1999; Berger, 2003; Abramowicz, 2008, Flanagan, 2005) but have not adequately defined journalism. This research will examine whether, amid proliferating multi-platform media, a specific form of communication called ‘journalism’ can be distinguished sufficiently to claim special protection, and what forms of this communication should enjoy that protection. The importance of the research is that Anglo-American legal systems, which traditionally regarded legal protection for ‘journalism’ as deriving from citizens’ rights to free expression, now allow and enforce distinct legal protections for journalism separate from these, such as qualified privilege and the right to protect sources. The research will use the United Kingdom context to examine rights now attaching and likely to attach to journalism, the legal status of journalism and journalists, and a theoretical and practical foundation for both. It will examine the operation of the traditional journalist and non-traditional media including the “citizen journalist”, the “blogger”, the campaigner and other media actors. The research will focus on UK media and communications law and practice and its development, contrasted with relevant US and European examples. It will proceed not only through interviews with media executives, lawyers, mainstream and non-mainstream media organisations, and journalists, especially those personally involved in legal cases involving journalists’ rights, but also three closely defined case studies. In WikiLeaks vs The Guardian, examination of the processes used by WikiLeaks and the Guardian in the release of confidential information will contrast the unedited dumping of documents on the Internet with the editing, redacting and interpretive function of the Guardian. In STV Local, involving the establishment of up to 120 local websites across Scotland by Scottish Television, the role of journalist community editors will be contrasted with non-journalist contributors, examining their roles and the treatment by the newsroom of the material they produce. In the BBC User-Generated Content Centre, the way the BBC processes user-generated content, often merging it in different proportions with conventional journalist-generated content, will be contrasted with the treatment of journalist-generated content. These studies are intended to distinguish journalism content from closely-related but identifiably non-journalism content.