From time to time, concerns come up regarding what may or may not end up in the newspaper about what happened at a public meeting.
We cover what happens at the meeting, normally focusing on the most important parts of the agenda. Most people understand this and that part does not come into question. The part that becomes unclear is when there are people from the public in attendance and they make comments or allegations about either a particular subject or person. Normally these types of comments are put in the story because they correspond with items on the agenda.
However, at times a public body may find themselves under attack when the public disagrees with what they are doing. In that case people may show up at a meeting and make comments about their feelings or thoughts that may not correspond to anything on the agenda. Normally when this happens it is because the public feels strongly about something and it is so important that they actually take the time to show up at a public meeting and voice their opinion. This is one of the fundamental rights of the First Amendment. It is the right of the public to peacefully assemble and petition the government (public body) for a redress of grievances.
If an individual makes wild allegations against another person with the intent to harm or destroy that person’s career, it will not, I repeat, will not be printed in this newspaper without the proper follow-up, in other words due diligence. For example if there was a school board meeting and someone says that Mr. X has been molesting children, it may or may not be true. But just because someone suggested it at a public meeting does not mean it will end up in the paper. Those types of allegations must have formal charges brought before they go in the paper.
We may report anything in the paper we wish to as long as it’s not libelous or slanderous. That’s called freedom of speech. We choose not to report rumors or allegations that may be libelous or slanderous.
The safest approach if you don’t want something in the paper is to not say it at a public meeting. That goes for all public officials and private citizens.