Supreme Court: Fair Report Privilege Doesn’t Apply to Nonpublic Interviews

The state Supreme Court ruled today that nonpublic, one-on-one conversations between a newspaper reporter and sheriff’s department detective are not covered by the fair report privilege. That privilege shields persons and organizations that report on official acts from defamation claims, if the reports are fair and accurate. The decision arose from a defamation suit brought by Jeffrey Todd Burke against Sparta Newspapers. The newspaper published what Burke claimed were defamatory statements made by a sheriff’s department detective during a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with a reporter. A trial court sided with the Sparta Newspapers and granted summary judgement based on the fair report privilege. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision and held that the conversation did not fall within the scope of the privilege. The Supreme Court sided with the appeals court, but granted Sparta Newspapers permission to appeal to define the scope of the privilege. The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.

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