Sources Covered By the Fair Report Privilege
While each state can decide for itself what sources are covered by the fair report privilege, it generally applies to publicly available government records, official government reports, and statements made by government officials. Interim and unfinished government records and reports generally are not covered.
Examples where the fair report privilege would probably apply include:
Statements made by a judge in a trial
A speech made by a city council member during a council meeting
Testimony during a trial
Facts recorded in a final police report
Analysis reported in an Environmental Protection Agency survey
The privilege would probably not apply to:
Statements made by an arresting officer about the facts of the case, where those facts are not recorded in the police report
Gossip overheard on the courthouse steps
Offhand remarks made by a government official in a private setting
Statements made in a draft government report
Many sources may fall into gray areas. In general, the privilege is more likely to apply if the statement or fact comes from a public figure acting in his official capacity or a final, public report. It is less likely to apply where the figure is more private or is acting outside of his official scope of duties, or where the report is more preliminary or is inaccessible to the public.
Further, each state defines the scope of the privilege differently. For example, some states extend the privilege to more private settings such as a meeting of a corporation's share holders. Please consult your state's defamation section for specifics.
Ensuring That Your Use of Sources is "Fair and Accurate"