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Boston paper's reports on its own libel suit not defamatory

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Claims that the Boston Herald further defamed a famous musician in its coverage of his libel suit against the newspaper…

Claims that the Boston Herald further defamed a famous musician in its coverage of his libel suit against the newspaper were dismissed Wednesday by a Massachusetts judge, who ruled that the rocker failed to show that the reports were inaccurate, unfair or malicious.

The initial claim against the Herald filed by Tom Scholz, the founder of the rock band Boston, is still pending.

Media advocates celebrated the judge's rejection of the argument that the "fair and accurate report" privilege did not shield the Herald journalists because they were covering a suit brought against their own publication. Most states, including Massachusetts, give journalists immunity from defamation liability when they fairly and accurately report incorrect information disseminated by official sources or contained in lawsuits.

“We see [the ruling] not only as a victory for the Herald, but for the media’s right to provide a fair account and [for] the public and their right to be educated about what is going on in their own courts,” said Joseph Lipchitz, an attorney for the newspaper. “This is exactly what the fair report privilege was designed to protect and promote.”

Scholz originally sued the Herald for libel in response to three 2007 columns that he alleges falsely blamed him for driving fellow band member Brad Delp to commit suicide.

Specifically, Scholz asserted that false statements by Delp’s former wife and innuendo-laden headlines such as “Pal's snub made Delp do it: Boston rocker's ex-wife speaks” caused him “serious and undeserved harm to his reputation.” The portion of the lawsuit based on these columns is still pending.

In May 2010, when the Herald reprinted parts of those articles and other court documents as part of its coverage of the lawsuit, Scholz brought new claims against the paper, alleging the fresh batch of reporting also defamed him and caused him emotional distress.

However, the judge ruled that Scholz “came up short” because he could not prove that the sole purpose of the Heralds 2010 reporting was to defame him and not to inform the public.

Scholz will continue to vigorously pursue his original claims against the Herald for its “wrongful and devastating articles” in 2007, said Scholz's attorney Nicholas Carter in an email to The Boston Globe. That lawsuit is expected to remain in a pre-trial phase until at least February. Last month, the judge dismissed a separate defamation lawsuit against Delp's ex-wife based on her published comments.