NEFAC, Media Organizations Argue for Mass. ‘Fair Report’ Privilege Protections

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition and several media organizations recently filed an amicus brief arguing for protections under the Massachusetts ‘fair report’ privilege.

The privilege allows news organizations to fairly and accurately report certain types of official or government action without being liable for claims arising out those reports.

NEFAC and fellow amici filed the brief — drafted by Greenberg Traurig who represents GateHouse Media — on Sept. 9 in Butcher v. University of Massachusetts.

The case involves two news articles published by Mass Media, the student newspaper of the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The articles included information about a crime suspect as provided in a police blotter prepared by the university’s police department. The individual named as a suspect subsequently sued the newspaper for libel, as well as other causes of action.

In their brief, NEFAC and fellow amici argued that without the privilege:

”Massachusetts journalists, unlike their counterparts in many other states, will no longer be able to report information contained in police blotters, a reliable and frequent source for news coverage about something that is of the utmost public importance – crime. This will necessarily have a chilling effect on the press’s ability to report official government information, to the detriment of an informed public.”

NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition recently argued for public access to retailer revenue under the federal Freedom of Information Act, against U.S. Dept. of Interior FOIA rules, for free access to police body camera footage in Vermont, for Massachusetts public records in aggregate form, for timely access to juror identities, for the right to private emails of government officials when they pertain to public business, for the freedom to record public police activity and for the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.

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.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.