The Paris News
Published July 1, 2007
In what may prove to be a very interesting and perhaps precedent-setting case, Essent Healthcare has filed suit in 62nd District Court against unknown bloggers contending a blog — http:the-paris-site.blogspot.com — has defamed Paris Regional Medical Center. The suit also alleges bloggers are breaking the law by releasing patient confidential information.
One of the aspects of this case that make it so interesting is that Essent, the hospital's parent company, doesn't know exactly who they are suing. Thus, they have asked 62nd District Judge Scott McDowell to compel cable Internet service provider Suddenlink to disclose known mailing addresses of 10 bloggers. The clock is ticking on the 20-day deadline the judge gave the ISP to provide the information.
We offer no opinion on the merits of the case nor the judge's order, but express interest in several aspects of each. First, we take interest in whether a media provider such as an ISP should be compelled to reveal the names of subscribers who have obviously sought to be anonymous. Second, we are interested in the responsibility of third parties with regard to the release of patient confidential information.
While we watch these aspects of the case with interest, we express our opinion about responsible blogging without taking a position on material published on http:the-paris-site.blogspot.com .
Everyone has a First Amendment right to free speech, whether that speech is published in traditional media — like this newspaper or a radio broadcast — or new media — like a Web site or blog. However, free speech is not unbridled. With free speech comes responsibility. As the old example goes, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater unless there really is a fire.
Essent argues bloggers published "false and misleading statements with malice, with reckless disregard for truth or falsity and with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth of the statement."
We do not suggest whether those allegations are true or false, but we do believe those who operate blogs have a responsibility to ensure that published material is not false, misleading with malice or recklessly disregards truth. Free speech standards must the same for all material published or broadcast, regardless of the media.
One thing about blogs that concerns us is the use of pseudonyms. With rare exception, we believe speech should be tied to a real name. When expressing an opinion, not just stating facts, we find no exception. That's why we don't publish anonymous letters in this newspaper.
There are a number of Paris-related blogs on the Internet, where opinions about everything from the hospital to city hall and local nightlife are expressed. Our hope is that the suit filed by Essent does not have a chilling effect on these blogs. It is important to have such forums in our techno-savvy world. However, it also is our hope that those who operate these blogs will do so in a responsible manner where the goal is truth without malice.
By the way, we hit world wide web status a while ago. Blogspot registred us. So www.the-paris-site.blogspot.com is appropriate....frank