Jenner & Block

Firm Secures Important Victory for Media’s First Amendment Rights

In a victory for Jenner & Block’s news media clients, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently upheld the First Amendment rights of the media to report truthfully on the federal government’s investigation into sources of funding for terrorism.

The case, Global Relief Foundation, Inc. v. The New York Times Company, et al., concerned published reports by six major news organizations that the federal government was investigating a charitable organization, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), for links to terrorism, and that the government was considering freezing GRF’s assets.  GRF sued the news organizations and their reporters for defamation.

In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Seventh Circuit held that truth is an absolute defense to defamation, and that news media defendants could not be held liable for truthfully reporting on the government’s suspicions about and actions against the plaintiff.  The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had earlier granted summary judgment for the defendants in the case, concluding that the gist of the news reports was true.

“The Seventh Circuit’s decision represents an important vindication of the rights of the news media to report accurately on the government’s ongoing war on terrorism,” said Partner David P. Sanders, Co-Chair of the Firm’s Media and First Amendment Practice, who argued the appeal in the Seventh Circuit on behalf of all of the news media organizations in the case.

The Firm’s brief had argued that holding journalists liable for truthful reporting would “dramatically and improperly chill the ability of the press to report on the actions of government and deny the public information about matters of vital public concern.”

Jenner & Block represented the American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC) and Hearst Communications, Inc. (publisher of The San Francisco Chronicle) in the Seventh Circuit, and drafted the joint brief for all of the defendants in the case, including The New York Times Company, Globe Newspaper Company, Daily News, L.P., the Associated Press, and their reporters.

In addition to Mr. Sanders, Partner Barry Levenstam, Co-Chair of the Firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice, and Associate Jared O. Freedman were part of the Firm’s team on this matter.

Please click here to view the Seventh Circuit’s decision.