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Fair report privilege can be overcome by showing of common law malice

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  1. Libel and Privacy
MINNESOTA--The common law qualified privilege that protects fair and accurate reporting of a public proceeding can be overcome with the…

MINNESOTA–The common law qualified privilege that protects fair and accurate reporting of a public proceeding can be overcome with the showing of common law malice, a state appellate court held in mid- June.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul ruled that the fair and accurate reporting privilege does not make common law malice irrelevant.

The court said there is a significant distinction between common law malice and actual malice, which refers to knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. “Under the common law definition, malice exists where the defendant ‘made a statement from ill will and improper motives, or causelessly and wantonly for the purpose of injuring plaintiff.'”

The privilege generally protects journalists and publishers from liability when defamation claims arise from fair and accurate reports on public proceedings and documents.

In ruling that the privilege can be overcome by a showing that the defendant acted with common law malice, the court held that the qualified privilege would be treated just as all other qualified privileges at common law.

The Crookston Daily Times reported in early March 1998 that at the end of that city council meeting, a community member, recognized to speak, said that the city’s “kids got problems with drugs and it’d help if we could get Mr. Moreno to quit dealing drugs out of the back of his police car.” Gerardo Moreno is a Crookston police officer.

The newspaper covered the accusation against Moreno and the reaction of the police chief in a front-page story. Moreno filed a defamation action against the newspaper. (Moreno v. Crookston Times Printing Co.)