NEFAC: Mass. Libel Law Restricts Flow of Information and Encourages Self-Censorship

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued against a Massachusetts libel law that prohibits the truth as a defense in certain cases.

Truthful comments, the coalition explained in an April 14 amicus brief, are protected by the state’s Constitution even if they are on matters of private concern and published with malicious intent.

NEFAC and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association filed the brief in Shane v. Regan. The Suffolk Superior Court case involves a state law (M.G.L. c. 231 § 92) that allows recovery for defamatory though truthful statements on matters of private concern if the speaker was motivated by common law malice.

According to the brief:

“This case is of particular importance because it poses the risk that persons who disseminate accurate information will be subject to lawsuits and damages awards not because of factual errors, but because of an assessment of their underlying motives in publishing the truth. The harm caused by such a rule would be compounded by the vagaries of determining what is or is not a matter of private concern that permits inquiry into the motives of a person who speaks the truth.”

The law at issue, amici explained, could drastically restrict the free flow of accurate information by encouraging both self-censorship and retaliatory suits designed to suppress unpopular truths.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly writes and joins advocacy letters in cases involving First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.