An Unofficial History of the Greenbelt News Review
page 6 of 7
The most famous example of the News Review's determination to inform its readers resulted in an incident that took Greenbelters beyond the confined quarters of their own community life and eventually placed the Greenbelt News Review in America's history books.
In July 1966, a local developer sued the Greenbelt News Review for two million dollars after the newspaper reported on a town meeting in which several citizens had accused the developer of "blackmail."
The News Review, which only a few years before had been ready to shut down because of lack of finances, responded in typical Greenbelt fashion.
A Freedom of the Press Committee was formed, and local volunteers went door-to-door in order to collect money for a legal defense.
Thirty thousand dollars was ultimately raised.
After being defeated twice at the state level, the News Review took its case to the United States Supreme Court, where the court ruled that the Greenbelt News Review's right to report in detail on public debates was protected by the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. Supreme Court Building
In its summary, the Supreme Court stated that the News Review's case affected fundamental American liberties.
This case involves newspaper reports of public meetings of the citizens of a community concerned with matters of local governmental interest and importance.
The very subject matter of the news reports, therefore, is one of particular First Amendment concern.
'The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes may be obtained by lawful means . . . is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system.' Stromberg v. California, supra, at 369.
'Freedom of discussion, if it would fulfill its historic function in this nation, must embrace all issues about which information is needed or appropriate to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of their period.' Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 102.
Because the threat or actual imposition of pecuniary liability for alleged defamation may impair the unfettered exercise of these First Amendment freedoms, the Constitution imposes the strongest limitations upon the permissible scope of such liability. . . .
The Greenbelt News Review was performing its wholly legitimate function as a community newspaper when it published full reports of these public debates in its news columns. . . .
To permit the infliction of financial liability upon the petitioners for publishing these two news articles would subvert the most fundamental meaning of a free press, protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
[Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association, Inc., et al. v. Charles S. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6 (1970).]