Who is a Journalist?: Changing legal definitions in a de-territorialised media space

Document Type

Journal Article


Taylor & Francis


School of Business and Law




Johnston, J., & Wallace, A. (2017). Who is a Journalist? Changing legal definitions in a de-territorialised media space. Digital Journalism, 5(7), 850-867.

Available here.


The emergence of blogging and citizen journalism has created challenges in defining the once-simple terms of “journalist” and “news media”. Internationally, courts, legislators and policy makers are developing new definitions that incorporate a broader understanding of journalism practice, as territories blur and shift across digital spaces. However, a lack of consensus has resulted in jurisdictional clashes, challenges to legislative amendments, appeals to higher courts, and confusion for regulators and practitioners alike. In Australia, recently legislated shield laws have resulted in different definitions across the country’s various jurisdictions. In the United States, court cases relating to defamation and shield laws have been successfully appealed based on differing definitions of the role of a journalist. In New Zealand, a High Court judgement overturned a lower court decision, to find that a blogger could be viewed as a journalist. At the same time, courts internationally are developing policies and guidelines relating to live text-based communication from courts, which also requires them to determine who is permitted to text, tweet or blog from within courtroom. This paper examines how these courts, legislators and policy makers are grappling with the challenges of redefining “journalist” and “news media” while ultimately focusing on the objective of ensuring a free and democratic flow of information.



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