Pa. Court: Neutral Reporting

Does Not Protect the Media

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The news media have no absolute constitutional protection when reporting defamatory comments made by reputable public figures, even when describing the comments in a neutral way, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.

Affirming an appeals court decision, the justices granted a new trial Wednesday to two Parkesburg officials who sued over a 1995 article in the Daily Local News in West Chester.

According to the article, borough Councilman William T. Glenn Sr. issued a statement "strongly implying" that he considered council President James B. Norton III and Mayor Alan M. Wolfe to be "child molesters," the court said in its decision.

A jury ordered Glenn to pay the two men $17,500 in damages but found that reporter Tom Kennedy, then-editor William Caufield and newspaper owner Troy Publishing Co. were not liable, partly because of the trial judge's instruction on the "neutral reportage" privilege.

That privilege, recognized by some state and federal courts, lets the news media convey a reputable public figure's defamatory comment as long as it is reported neutrally and accurately.

Teacher Charged in Fight

With Parent at Ga. School

MACON, Ga. -- A teacher-parent brawl in front of 19 fourth-graders sent a mother to the emergency room and the teacher to jail.

Teacher Katrina Ann Rucker, 30, is charged with battery and cruelty to children for allegedly beating a parent who tried to retrieve her daughter's book bag on Thursday.

According to police interviews, Lurella Amica went to Bruce-Weir Elementary School to deliver a note to her daughter.

At the classroom door, the 9-year-old told her mother that Rucker had thrown her bag in the trash can, the report stated. Amica entered the classroom and tried to get the book bag, but Rucker grabbed for it, and the two struggled, the report said.

* WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Someone gained unauthorized access to Purdue University's computer network, prompting school officials to urge all students, staff and faculty to change their passwords. Purdue officials said that after the initial breach was detected, an investigation found that computers in several locations on the 38,000-student campus here had been accessed.

* KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A commuter plane that crashed while approaching an airport this week lacked an updated system that warns pilots who fly too low, equipment that will be required next year, investigators said. Instead, the Corporate Airlines turboprop had an earlier version of the system that met current regulations, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said.

* GIBSON, Ga. -- Lab testing revealed no contaminant inside the large cookie that made eight students sick, state authorities said. The students, ages 14 to 17, at Glascock Consolidated School in Gibson, 110 miles southeast of Atlanta, immediately became nauseated after eating the chocolate chip cookie on Oct. 1.

-- From News Services