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Our current laws regarding free speech and media have grown up in an era of mainstream media institutions. Now every individual with a computer or mobile device and access to the internet can record, report and comment on events, and frequently does. The old focus on 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 media from highly institutionalised to highly diffused, and the question is whether these diverse arrangements can be addressed without unduly constraining public debate.
- introduction: law's regulation of free 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;
- reporting the courts and constraints on freedom of speech: contempt, suppression orders and the right to a fair trial;
- censoring the media: defamation laws and the significant constraints they impose on speech;
- contemporary and comparative defamation laws and their reform;
- confidentiality, privacy and the media;
- the protection of journalists' sources;
- blasphemy and obscenity laws and the shaping of public opinion, racial and religious vilification and other forms of 'offensive' speech; and
- possible futures - disaggregating free speech and 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: 10 December 2019