At least one court has found that the same standard of fault applies to citizen or non-media defendants where the allegedly defamatory statements relate to a matter of legitimate public concern. See Pollnow v. Poughkeepsie Newspapers, 107 A.D.2d 10 (N.Y.A.D. 2d Dep't 1985), aff'd 67 N.Y.2d 778 (N.Y. 1986) (no liability for letter to the editor unless writer was "grossly irresponsible").

In cases brought by private figure plaintiffs involving statements not related to a matter of legitimate public concern, New York courts apply a negligence standard.

To determine whether statements relate to a matter of legitimate public concern, New York courts view the allegedly defamatory statements in context of the writing as a whole. They ask whether the matter can be "fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern of the community" and distinguish this broad category of newsworthy matters from "mere gossip and prurient interest." Overall, the test is deferential to the reporter's judgment about whether a matter is of legitimate public concern. See Huggins v. Moore, 94 N.Y.2d 296, 302-03 (N.Y. 1999).

Privileges and Defenses

New York courts recognize a number of privileges and defenses in the context of defamation actions, including the fair report privilege, the opinion and fair comment privileges, substantial truth, and the wire service defense. New York has not explicitly recognized or rejected 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.

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