The Berkshire Eagle | January 3, 2020
The concept of “fair report privilege” in regard to the press goes back to the early days of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. That the principle still holds today, as declared last week by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, is welcome news for the press and residents of the commonwealth.
The deciding case that went before the SJC, Butcher vs. University of Massachusetts, involved two news articles published by Mass Media, the student newspaper of UMass-Boston back in 2013.
As the case wound its way through the courts over the six years since, all that remained was the lawsuit and the principle of fair report privilege. The SJC ruling does not give journalists carte blanche to print stories irresponsibly. Care must be taken to check facts and to offer corrections and apologies if necessary. But newspapers should not be held responsible for reporting what they can only take as accurate from a police blotter or in a statement from a public official. To do otherwise would be to stifle the free flow of information, and the SJC ruled wisely in assuring that a terrible precedent was not established by this case.