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Fair report privilege covers story on candidate's job history

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         FLORIDA         Libel         Jun 26, 2001    

Fair report privilege covers story on candidate’s job history

  • A Florida appeals court upheld the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit against the Daytona Beach News-Journal because the article fairly summarized public records.

Statements made about a local candidate in the Daytona Beach News-Journal were protected by the fair report privilege and not actionable as defamation, a Florida appellate court ruled on June 15. The court upheld the dismissal of a libel suit brought by Kevin “Kit” Carson, an attorney who failed in two local political campaigns.

The District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach (5th Dist.) decided that the News-Journal’s account adequately summarized a public document and therefore was protected by the fair report privilege.

Carson sued the News-Journal in 1998 after losing an election for a Volusia County judgeship. Two years earlier, Carson unsuccessfully ran to become the county’s public defender. Carson claimed 14 statements in the newspaper defamed him. Most of the statements were either not capable of a defamatory meaning or were pure opinion, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Will ruled in dismissing the case in June 2000. Will determined that one statement was protected by the fair report privilege.

The fair report privilege permits publication of information from a public document or meeting so long as the information is accurately reproduced or fairly summarized.

In reporting on Carson’s employment history, the News-Journal obtained documents from the state Bureau of Unemployment Compensation. The newspaper then reported Carson’s 1985 firing from the Public Defender’s Office in Lake City, reportedly for unsatisfactory work, and his dismissal in 1988 from the Florida Attorney General’s office in Daytona Beach for a poor work evaluation.

Carson argued the fair report standard was not met because the News-Journal did not summarize portions of the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation documents that revealed he was discharged for reasons other than for misconduct and that he was ultimately awarded unemployment compensation benefits.

In upholding the dismissal, the appellate court ruled that the newspaper accurately summarized separable portions of two public documents and therefore was entitled to the privilege.

(Carson v. News-Journal Corp.; Media Counsel: Jonathan D. Kaney Jr., Bruce A. Hanna and Jonathan D. Kaney III, Cobb, Cole & Bell, Daytona Beach, Fla.) DB

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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