From the Francesville Tribune:
Q: We need advice on reporting on a tort claim against multiple agencies in our county. We do not want to get into any legal trouble due to the sensitivity of it being a multiple agency tort claim. However, taxpayer monies are involved.
The claim alleges that a “special officer” made arrests without legal authority. So how does one report on a tort claim without implying guilt? Would you report word for word what the tort claim states?
A: A tort claim filed against a government unit is a public record that should be accessible to anyone, including the press.
When someone claims the government did something wrong, that is news, unless you know the person making the allegations is lying.
You are correct that allegations are merely allegations until adjudicated by the courts, so it would be good to include in the story a reminder to your readers that the tort claim is not proven facts.
You can also talk to officials. If they confirm the allegations you can include that in your story, too.
You don’t have to print the tort claim verbatim. You can paraphrase or use excerpts. Be sure to attribute the charges to the tort claim throughout the story.
Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 624-4427.