What is the common usage and specific meaning of the language used?
Is the statement verifiable? Can it be proven false?
What is the full context of the statement?
What are the social conventions surrounding the medium the statement occurred in?
Note that each state decides what is required to establish defamation and what defenses are available, so you should review your state's specific law in the State Law: Defamation section of this guide to determine how the opinion privilege operates in your jurisdiction.
Fair Report Privilege
The fair report privilege may protect you from liability -- even if you publish something that is defamatory -- if you relied upon a official public document or statement by a public official for the false information, made clear that the document or statement was your source, and fairly and accurately used the source. This privilege enables you to freely report, for example, about what people say during a council meeting or from the witness stand during a trial or to quote from public records.
The fair report privilege's historic rationale has been to encourage public scrutiny of governmental activities through fair and accurate reporting of governmental proceedings. The defense allows you to report on government activity without bearing the overwhelming burden of first proving the truth of everything said in government documents and proceedings.
Keep in mind that not all states recognize the fair report privilege, so check your state's defamation section to confirm that you are covered. In those states that do recognize the privilege, it will generally apply where:
Your source is an official public document or statement by a public official on a matter of public concern;
You properly attribute the information to that source; and
You fairly and accurately portray the information from the document or statement.