Monday, May 10, 2010

N.H. High Court Backs Anonymous Blogging, Shield Law for Online Journalists

The New Hampshire Supreme CourtImage by Ben McLeod via Flickr
In the important 14-page decision last week of The Mortgage Specialists, Inc. v. Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, Inc. (Case No. 2009-262), the New Hampshire Supreme Court bolstered protection for preserving the confidentiality of anonymous bloggers.

Implode-O-Meter, a Website that follows the mortgage industry, reported the N.H. Banking Dept. was investigating The Mortgage Specialists, Inc., and linked to an official document addressing the probe that the Website obtained from a confidential source. A pseudonymous blogger, "Brianbattersby," commented on the investigation.

The Mortgage Specialists successfully argued before Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Kenneth McHugh for an injunction ordering the removal of the banking report document and for identification of the anonymous blogger, whose comments the mortgage company claimed were defamatory.

The N.H. High Court said a balancing test must be applied not only to the plaintiff's interests, but also to the interests of  anonymous speakers. The Court wrote: "The fact that Implode operates a Website makes it no less a member of the press...[W]e conclude that Implode's Website serves an informative function and contributes to the flow of information to the public. Thus, Implode is a reporter for purposes of the newsgathering privilege."

The Supreme Court said publication of the loan document did not violate privacy and confidentiality laws. The High Court also raised the bar for requiring the disclosure of the identity of anonymous online speakers.  "TUOL" weighed in on this case,and  the hot-button issue of  the application of First Amendment protection to anonymous bloggers on N.H. Public Radio's The Exchange last November (

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