SPJ joins amicus brief supporting truth as a defense against libel
For Immediate Release:
Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is upholding its mission to protect free speech by joining an amicus brief in a case that pairs the right to report the truth against being sued for doing so.
The case surrounds the claim of former Staples, Inc. employee Alan Noonan, who was fired for allegedly falsifying expense reports. After Noonan’s dismissal, an executive sent an e-mail to approximately 1,500 employees explaining the circumstances of the termination and reminding employees of company policy for reporting expenses. Noonan filed suit in a Massachusetts district court, claiming the e-mail was libelous and undertaken with intent to tarnish his reputation.
Although the district court ruled in favor of Staples, reasoning that the charges set forth in the e-mail were indeed true and therefore not libelous, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit overturned the district court ruling on rehearing in February 2009. The appeals court, guided by a century-old Massachusetts statute, found that state law allows Noonan to recover, even though the contents of the e-mail were true, if a jury finds that Staples acted with ill will or malice by informing employees of Noonan’s misfeasance. Staples is now asking the full 1st Circuit to hear the case.
The ruling does not directly deal with a media company or journalists, but the precedent it creates could silence news outlets and eventually stymie necessary investigative reporting.
“This case is remarkable and potentially harmful to free speech and a free press,” said SPJ President Dave Aeikens. “If the ruling stands, it could create a lasting and harmful precedent that will prevent news media from reporting basic facts.”
This is the third case SPJ has supported in 2009 by joining an amicus brief. The last case involved the appeal of the Prison Legal News, which sought access to Tennessee prison records. Read about the case and SPJ’s support here. Learn about SPJ’s legal advocacy and other news items by reviewing the news archive here.
Along with SPJ, a number of journalism organizations are supporting Staples by joining the brief, including the Associated Press, the E.W. Scripps Company, the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association and National Public Radio.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well- informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.