We may be a little bit closer to determining if “bloggers” are members of the media for purposes of attending executive sessions under the Oregon Public Meetings Law. Under ORS 192.660(4), “representatives of the news media” are allowed to attend executive sessions (with the exception of executive sessions held for the purpose of conducting labor negotiations), but may not be allowed to disclose information from the executive session if the governing body so requires. In recent years, several Oregon municipalities have addressed whether an internet blogger should be allowed to attend an executive session under the media exception. With no case law on this topic, and little direction from the state, municipalities have independently addressed such situations. A recent case, heard in federal court for the District of Oregon, may help shed some light on this topic. In Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, plaintiffs brought a defamation claim against Crystal Cox, a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger,” for comments she made about defendants in her blog. The court concluded that the Oregon retraction statutes pertaining to damages for defamatory statements did not apply because these statutes apply only to actions for damages on defamatory statements “published or broadcast in a newspaper, magazine, other printed periodical, or by radio, television, or motion picture.” Because the statutes do not include internet blogs, the court held that the retraction statutes do not apply to blog postings.
Without any controlling authority on the issue, the court declined to conclude that the defendant in this case was a member of the “media.” Specifically, the court stated that the defendant failed to provide evidence suggesting she was a journalist because she provided no evidence of:
… (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.”
So although this case did not address whether bloggers are members of the media for purposes of executive sessions, it does shed light on potential criteria that municipalities and local governments could use in establishing policies of whether or not to include bloggers as member of the “media” in executive sessions. As usual, jurisdictions should consult with their legal counsel before establishing any such policy. In today’s world where anyone can set up a blog and become a “blogger,” local governments who have not already done so should be thinking about how they would handle such situations.
Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, 2011 WL 5999334 (D. Or., November 30, 2011)