CALIFORNIA–Newspaper reports on matters under consideration by governmental bodies are protected by the state’s “anti-SLAPP” statute, the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled in early August.
Because the statute applies, a university that sued The San Francisco Chronicle was required to establish the probable validity of its claims at the outset of litigation. A superior court judge in San Francisco dismissed the claim in 1992 because the university failed to meet the burden.
The statute is meant to protect those who participate in public controversies from SLAPP (“strategic lawsuits against public participation”) suits.
The suit was filed against the Chronicle by More University after the newspaper ran a series of articles on the school’s decision to allow the homeless to live in tents on its property, and the public county commission hearings that followed. The paper described More as a “sensuality school” that offered a “unique course in carnal knowledge,” and printed allegations by a former student that the school coerced students into prostitution and provided them with drugs.
The Chronicle asked the court to dismiss the suit under the anti- SLAPP statute. The school countered that the statute was meant to apply to citizens speaking out against government action.
But the court disagreed, holding that the statute protects anyone, including newspapers, acting “in furtherance of [its] right of … free speech … in connection with a public issue.” (Lafayette Morehouse, Inc. v. The Chronicle Publishing Company; Media Counsel: Mark Tuft and James Wagstaffe, San Francisco)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.