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Groups seek protection for reporting of court records

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The Reporters Committee has signed on to a brief with 18 other news organizations asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn a…

The Reporters Committee has signed on to a brief with 18 other news organizations asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn a decision that narrowed the fair report privilege for court documents.

In Salzano v. North Jersey Media Group, an appellate court in New Jersey ruled that journalists can be subject to libel lawsuits when they report the contents of a legal complaint. Though the fair report privilege has long provided journalists with a defense to such suits for stories that quote from official proceedings, the court held that the privilege only applies when journalists quote from court decisions — not from court pleadings filed by individual parties.

The friend-of-the court brief, written by counsel for the New Jersey Press Association, was filed last week. It urges the Supreme Court to reverse the decision and hold that the fair and accurate reporting of information contained in public court documents is constitutionally protected.

The lower court’s decision is problematic for reporters because it does not clearly distinguish what types of court filings will be covered under the privilege now, the brief argues: “Such limitations chill and deter the press in performing its critical role of reporting such matters of public concern."

The brief was also signed by ABC, Advance Publications, The New York Times Company, NYP Holdings, Gannett, The Associated Press, Daily News, Dow Jones, NBC Universal, Courthouse News Service, First Media, ALM Media, the Newspaper Association of America, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, The Association of American Publishers, WPIX and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.