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Our laws regarding free speech and media emerged from an era of mainstream media institutions. Now every individual with a digital device and internet access can record, report and comment on events, and frequently does. The old paradigm of organised media and largely passive audience is breaking down. As a result, the regulation of free speech and media has to contemplate the whole gamut of communication from the highly institutionalised to the highly diffused, and the question is whether these diverse arrangements can be addressed while mitigating harms and without unduly constraining public debate.
- introduction: law's regulation of speech and media;
- history and philosophy of free speech;
- development of a 'media law': the inherited British tradition of law-making and interpretation, role of the High Court, international influences on local law, etc;
- the High Court's implied constitutional freedom of political communication, comparisons with explicit rights frameworks in other jurisdictions (especially US), problems of the national law approach in an interconnected environment;
- defamation laws and the constraints they impose on speech;
- contemporary and comparative defamation laws and their reform;
- confidentiality, privacy and the media;
- reporting the courts and freedom of speech: contempt, suppression and open justice;
- the protection of journalists' sources: litigation, law enforcement and national security;
- ‘offensive’ speech: censorship and classification on various bases; racial and religious vilification; and
- regulatory ramifications of technology-driven issues affecting free speech and the media.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should:
- Recognise that free speech and the media have various legal connection points;
- appreciate the multiple ways in which free speech and the media may be protected and restricted by the law; and
- understand the basic features of the legal treatment of free speech and the media.
On completion of the subject the student should have:
- Capacity for self-directed learning, specifically the ability to plan work and use time effectively;
- cognitive and analytical skills;
- ability to speak about complex ideas in a clear and cogent manner;
- an awareness of diversity and plurality;
- write essays which develop structured argumentation; and
- capacity to judge the worth of their own arguments.
Last updated: 6 December 2023