An online reporter qualifies as a journalist entitled to certain protections under state law, a Texas appellate court ruled last month.
The reporter, Joe Kaufman, sought a pre-trial appeal of a lower court’s refusal to dismiss defamation charges against him. In Texas, members of the media have an automatic right to pre-trial appeals if the claim is rooted in the First Amendment. The plaintiffs — a coalition of seven Islamic associations — challenged whether Kaufman is a journalist because his work appeared on the Internet.
The defamation claim comes from an article Kaufman wrote for Front Page Magazine, an online publication of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The article was about Muslim Family Day at Six Flags Over Texas and highlighted links between one of the event’s sponsors, the Islamic Circle of North America, and third-parties with connections to terrorism. The plaintiffs are other Islamic groups that were listed as sponsors on an promotional flier but were not named in the article. The Islamic Circle of North America did not sue.
The Texas Court of Appeals in Forth Worth (2nd Dist.) looked at multiple factors to determine that Kaufman qualified as a member of the media. Those included the nature of the work published, the frequency with which Kaufman writes and the editing practices of the magazine. The court also noted that the state’s recently passed shield law specifically includes electronic media.
The court then dismissed the libel charge. It found that the plaintiffs could not successfully claim that the allegedly defamatory information was "of and concerning" them, a necessary element to proving libel.