Monday, 5 January 2009

Course outline 2009

Seminar 1: General Issues

Before considering any substantive legal issues, we need to address some general issues.  The first concerns what we mean by comparative law and what it involves.  The second looks at freedom of expression, what it might mean at a theoretical level and why it is perceived as important. 

Seminar 2: Enforcing Human Rights: European Convention on Human Rights

A significant question is who has rights (whether freedom of expression or privacy) and as well as the issue of against whom they may be enforced.  If it is not possible to enforce rights, they may seem to the person whose rights have been invaded to have little value.  Mechanisms of enforcement are therefore crucial.  What is significant in the context of this course is that the media, as well as having rights – notably freedom of expression – may also infringe the rights of others, especially privacy.  Typically rights protect individuals against the actions of government or public bodies.  Although the media may fall within the definition of a public body, equally many media are private actors.  How do the mechanisms of enforcement work in this context?

Seminar 3: Defamation and Freedom of Expression

Before exploring the scope of speech, the seminar will be begin by focusing on the tension between protection of reputation and freedom of expression. How do the UK, US and Germany vary in their approaches to protection of reputation? Particular emphasis will be placed on the defences available to media organisations and how political speech and public interest speech is protected.

Seminar 4: Political Speech

We discuss the scope of freedom of expression in the context of political speech.  Freedom of expression covers a broad range of speech, but one of the key attributes of the media is its watchdog role in a democratic society.  This portion of the seminar will therefore concentrate on the protection awarded to the media in this context by looking at the approach of the national systems towards comment on matters of public interest and towards criticism of politicians.  This latter issue has also links with issues discussed when we move on to consider privacy.  One particular aspect that we will consider, albeit briefly, will be the freedom of minority groups, religious groups and those that are perceived to be terrorists to access the media and any constraints on the reporting thereof.  We will not have time in this course to consider the protection of sources or the right of access to information.

Seminar 5: Artistic Speech, Obscenity and Pornography, Commercial Speech

This seminar will look at the other forms of speech/expression protected by freedom of expression, especially as exercised by the media, and its relationship other interests, such as the protection of minors. Some of the general principles regarding freedom of expression will be the same as those discussed in seminar 4, regarding political speech (e.g distinction between statements of fact and opinion, truths and falsehoods).  Here particular tensions arise as to the boundary to be drawn between commercial speech and other forms of speech, and whether this makes commercial speech any the less valuable.  A linked question is whether motive for speech renders it less worthy of protection.

Seminar 6: Privacy, Human Dignity and the Person in the Public Sphere

One right which might readily conflict with freedom of expression is the right to privacy.  The first of these seminars starts by considering the scope/meaning of privacy before considering the circumstances in which privacy may or may not be invaded according to international law.  In this assessment, criteria relating to the status of the person as well as the person’s physical location when the invasion of privacy took place may all be relevant.  The second seminar considers the position under national law, and specifically the position of the person who has temporarily been in the public eye as opposed to a public figure or celebrity.

Seminar 7: Identity, Publicity and Privacy as a Property Right

Although many justifications for privacy refer to considerations of human dignity, some conceptions of privacy (or aspects of privacy) view the rights almost as a form of property; thus an individual may have a right to his or her image voice or persona that can be controlled and used as a commodity.  In addition, some view a publicity right as distinct from the right to privacy.  The view of privacy as a property right has been accepted more easily in some jurisdictions than others.  As it does not yet seem to have been raised in the context of international law, this seminar will focus on the approach in the national jurisdictions under review.

Seminar 8: Broadcasting Regulation

The broadcast media has typically been heavily regulated in Europe; this is not the case in the USA.  The approaches reflect different philosophies about the nature and importance of freedom of expression and the broadcast media.  Understanding these competing views requires us to have some understanding of the different freedom of expression claims made by different parties making up the broadcast media (journalists as well as production companies and those responsible for the transmission of content), as well as any rights that the audience may have.

Seminar 9: The Internet and the Impact of Other New Technologies

This seminar will focus on the Internet and its relation to freedom of expression and privacy.  While the Internet’s architecture might allow for complete freedom of expression, this architecture can also be used to impose limits.  The technology has also changed how information is imparted and received, and on a more fundamental level how people communicate.  In this seminar we will return to some of the readings from the first seminar relating to freedom of expression and technology.



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