Fair report privilege covers remarks made in interview
NEW JERSEY–The fair report privilege extends to reports of defamatory charges made by one public official about another in a private interview, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court in Hackensack unanimously held in mid-October.
The privilege previously had been held to protect the publication of defamatory statements made in an official report or public proceeding. The privilege is an exception to the rule that one who republishes a defamation uttered by another is subject to the same liability as the original speaker.
In October 1994 the Fort Lee police chief and his deputies sued The Bergen Record, its publisher and a reporter for libel and false light after the newspaper quoted charges made by Laurence Goldberg, a city council member. Goldberg had accused the police department of mishandling arrests and police property. The article in the Record focused on the disruption that the charges were causing to the operation of the local government.
The trial court held that the fair report privilege did not apply to the case because Goldberg made the charges in a private interview, not in the course of a public proceeding. The Superior Court, a mid- level appeals court, disagreed, noting that Goldberg had made the same allegations during city council sessions.
“We see no reason to deny the fair report protection to the media where the remarks reported in the article were made in an interview reasonably related to the … public controversy,” the court said.
To be protected by the privilege, the report must be fair and accurate, the court stated. The court found that the Record presented both sides of the issue fairly and that the newspaper even noted that it was unable to substantiate the charges made by Goldberg.
The police officials did not appeal the decision and the deadline for an appeal has passed. (Orso v. The Bergen Record Corporation; Media Counsel: Mark Stewart, Edward Rogers, John Langel, Philadelphia)