LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A blogger who was sued for defamation over an article criticizing a former Arkansas school board member must disclose her sources because she’s not protected under an Arkansas media law, a judge ruled.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce concluded Monday that blogger Elizabeth Rose Lyon-Ballay is not protected under the Arkansas shield law, which protects news organizations from being forced to reveal sources except in limited circumstances.
“She’s a blogger. She’s not a reporter. She’s not (an internet) news source,” Pierce said after a 90-minute hearing.
Former Little Rock School Board President Melanie Fox sued Lyon-Ballay for a now-removed January 2020 article she posted on her Orchestrating Change blog, which publishes writings on public education issues, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed last March, accuses Lyon-Ballay of defamation and false light invasion of privacy over the article, in which she allegedly portrayed Fox as a racist who associates with thieves and sexual predators. The blog post also accused Fox and her husband of improper business deals with the school district during her school board tenure, according to the lawsuit.
The judge ruled that Lyon-Ballay must answer the lawyers’ questions and, as punishment, she must pay for the costs of the deposition including Fox’s legal fees, which is not yet known.
“I have consulted my sources, and they have declined to give me permission to reveal their names, even threatening me in a manner if I do,” Lyon-Ballay said in a sworn statement.
Meanwhile, Lyon-Ballay’s attorney, Lucien Gillham, argued that blogs cannot be automatically excluded from shield protections, adding that the blog’s writings are “clearly news.” He also noted that Lyon-Ballay’s opinions about Fox are protected by the First Amendment.
“Blogs are clearly a source for people to get news,” he told the judge. “This lawsuit is about discouraging free speech.”