A free speech defense bound for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) pits the UMass Boston student newspaper and the Massachusetts Attorney General against a plaintiff who claims he was defamed, and The Boston Globe quoted Professor Rick Peltz-Steele to analyze the case.
Jon Butcher claims he was defamed by the newspaper’s rendering of witness statements culled from the police blotter. The newspaper and AG assert that the newspaper was privileged to recount the police blotter even if it conveyed erroneous information. The Massachusetts Appeals Court in September allowed the case to stand in part, and the defense appealed to the SJC.
“I think 25 years ago this would have been a clean victory for the press,” Peltz-Steele was quoted as saying in the Globe in July. “Today I see courts more willing to parse the facts and give plaintiffs a chance.
“We as a society went massively protective of media in the name of a free press” in the civil rights era, Peltz-Steele said. But in the information age, “the capacity of mass media to injure reputation and cause real suffering has reached unprecedented heights.”
Peltz-Steele wrote about the Appeals Court decision on his blog in September (“Have You Seen This Man?”: Student newspaper editor on libel hook for campus crime coverage). A scholar in First Amendment law, Peltz-Steele was himself a student newspaper editor at Washington and Lee University from 1991 to 1993. In law school, he interned at the nonprofit Student Press Law Center. As a lawyer, he represented student journalists pro bono. And as a law professor, Peltz-Steele has written about student press freedom and evolving press privileges in the information age.