SW Legal studies in Business

Media Privilege Bars False-Light Invasion of Privacy Claim
Description Appeals court held that when the media truthfully reports information given by public officials that places a person in a false light, even if the information is false, the media is not at fault so long as the reporting was accurate.
Topic Torts
Key Words False-light Invasion of Privacy; Fair-reporting Privilege
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Hurst sued Capital Cities Media for false-light invasion of privacy. An article in a Capital newspaper reported that Hurst had been questioned for two hours by police in a recent rape case and that the police and Hurst would not comment on the matter. The article then said that the state's attorney said that the victim knew her attacker and that the police did not think he was a serial rapist. Hurst was not charged with the crime and sued Capital. The trial judge certified a question to the appeals court for consideration to help clarify the law for the trial court.
Decision Could the newspaper article be the basis of a false-light invasion of privacy claim? "In a false-light claim, the plaintiff must prove that he was placed in a false light before the public as a result of the defendant's action, that the false light in which he was placed would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and that the defendant acted with knowledge that the information he published was false or with reckless disregard for whether the information was true or false." Since the article does not state that Hurst was a suspect nor does it state that he had been identified as the criminal, it does not appear that he was accused of committing a crime. The information reported in the paper is subject to the fair-reporting privilege. "This privilege protects news accounts of written and verbal statements made by governmental agencies and officials acting in their official capacities." If the media reports information given to it by such officials that is false information, the reporting of the information is not actionable.
Citation Hurst v. Capital Cities Media, Inc., - N.E.2d - (2001 WL 419159, Ct. App., Ill., 2001)

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