Illinois courts recognize a number of privileges and defenses in the context of defamation actions, including the fair report privilege, substantial truth, and the opinion and fair comment privileges. Illinois has neither recognized nor rejected the wire service defense and the neutral reportage privilege.
There also is an important provision under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that may protect you if a third party – not you or your employee or someone acting under your direction – posts something on your blog or website that is defamatory. We cover this protection in more detail in the section on Publishing the Statements and Content of Others.
Most of the privileges and defenses to defamation can be defeated if the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with actual malice. The fair report privilege is the exception to this rule; it cannot be defeated by a showing of actual malice. See Solaia Tech., LLC v. Specialty Pub'g Co., 852 N.E.2d 825 (Ill. 2006).
Fair Report Privilege
In Illinois, the fair report privilege covers reports of official government proceedings and information contained in public records. This includes court proceedings and matters contained in court documents, as well as police reports, verbal statements by governmental officials in their official capacities, and things like marriage and divorce records, birth and death records, and property records. The privilege protects you if your report fairly and accurately reflects the official information. As noted, the privilege is absolute, and cannot be defeated by a finding of malice or actual malice.
Neutral Reportage Privilege
The Supreme Court of Illinois has not recognized or rejected the neutral reportage privilege. Lower courts in Illinois do not agree on whether Illinois law recognizes the privilege. Therefore, its status remains uncertain.
Wire Service Defense