The Illinois Supreme Court last week found in favor of a publishing company which was being sued for demafation over its reporting of official court transcripts.
In overruling a lower court finding in Solaia v. Specialty Publishing, the Court stated that the so-called fair-report privilege “does not yield to allegations that a media defendant reported with actual malice false statements made in an official proceeding.â€ (In June 2005, I discussed the case in depth in PCB UPdate, our online newsletter.)
â€œPlainly, freedom of the press is illusory if a cloud of defamation liability darkens the mediaâ€™s reports of official proceedings,â€ wrote Justice Thomas Fitzgerald.
This is an important victory for media because it reinforces the commonly held notion — and practice — that the public has a right to know what happens in a public forum and that journalists are allowed to accurately report on those proceedings, including any defamatory statements made. It means that should an Illinois-based company like Motorola, for example, were to become involved in litigation with one of its suppliers, Circuits Assembly could report on those proceedings, including statements made by either party that were later found by the Court to be false or defamatory. This is a vital component to the democratic ideal of an open society and judicial system.