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State Constitution Gives Papers More Press Freedom Than the First Amendment

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

State Constitution Gives Papers More Press Freedom Than the First Amendment

Article excerpt

In overturning a libel decision against a small daily newspaper, the Utah Supreme Court ruled recently that the state's own constitution gives its newspapers more freedom to express opinions than allowed by the First Amendment.

"This is a very significant opinion and a great victory for the press"' said Randy Dryer, a Salt Lake City attorney, who represented the St. George Daily Spectrum in the case.

The lawsuit was filed by Terry West, the mayor of the nearby town of LaVerkin, in connection with three columns the Spectrum published in 1988.

The columns criticized West for allegedly changing positions on an important political issue and attempting to manipulate the media.

A state court judge dismissed the suit for lack of sufficient proof that the editors had acted with malice in publishing the columns.

But an appellate court reinstated it, declaring that it should go to trial.

That court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Milkovich vs. the Lorain (Ohio) Journal, which held that the media can be sued for defamation for opinion pieces, editorials and columns.

In its 5-0 decision, the Utah high court said that accusing an elected official of trying to manipulate

"While no politician would welcome such criticism - and indeed might find it personally offensive - this does not render it defamation," said the opinion written by Justice Christine Durham. …

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