Freedom of Speech, Media and the Law

  • Summer schools
  • Department of Law
  • Application code SS-LL208
  • Starting TBC
  • Short course: Closed
  • Location: Houghton Street, London

Please note: This course will not be running as part of the 2021 programme. However, you may be interested in our confirmed courses.  

Freedom of speech is described as the ‘lifeblood of democracy’, as ‘indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth’, and as a ‘good in itself’ that facilitates the self-fulfilment of each citizen. For many, it is the foundation upon which the democratic polity is founded. Some authors consider that - by contrast - in non-democratic states where freedom of speech is not fully realised, precisely this failure serves to undermine the legitimacy of promulgated rules. They warn that such a legitimation-deficit undermines the norms themselves and introduces an inherent structural fragility into such regimes.

Yet, few would argue that absolute freedom of speech or expression is an untrammelled public or social good. An array of competing rights and interests can be cited to justify the limitation of the freedom of speech. The excesses that speech can occasion can be considered unfair, destabilising, dangerous, offensive and harmful. The discussion on free speech is often focused on the proper design and placement of restrictions on the right.

Freedom of speech is of especial importance to the media. In modern, large-scale societies media organisations perform functions vital to the democratic polity. A key element in the (self-) understanding of the media is that of an agent able to ‘speak truth to power’ before, and on behalf of, a wider public. This course examines key aspects of the legal and administrative regulation of the media, and the rights framework within which journalistic practice occurs.

It focuses on three areas or ‘blocks’: the regulation of publication to protect private interests (reputation and privacy); the regulation of publication in defence of a range of public interests, and the facilitation and control of pre-publication newsgathering practices. The course also notes how the advent of online and social media has impacted on these issues.

These three blocks comprise:

  • the regulation of content to protect private interests. This involves a focus on the personal interests in privacy, confidentiality and reputation, and includes consideration of the torts of defamation (libel) and misuse of private information.
  • the regulation of content in the public interest. This involves a focus on prejudice to legal proceedings through media publicity, the publishing of offensive content, publication of sensitive material affecting national security, and concerns with political impartiality. It includes consideration of the law of contempt, blasphemy and related public order offences, official secrets and terrorism legislation, and broadcasting bans on certain forms of speech.
  • the regulation of newsgathering practices. This involves consideration of the use of harassing, deceptive and surreptitious methods by journalists (for example, door-stepping, phone-hacking and undercover reporting), the protection of journalists’ sources (including technological circumvention), and access to state-held information (freedom of information and open justice).

Session: TBC
Dates: TBC
Lecturer: Dr Andrew Scott


Programme details

Key facts

Level: 200 level. Read more information on levels in our FAQs

Fees:  Please see Fees and payments

Lectures: 36 hours 

Classes: 18 hours

Assessment*: An essay and a take-home examination

Typical credit**: 3-4 credits (US) 7.5 ECTS points (EU)

*Assessment is optional

**You will need to check with your home institution

For more information on exams and credit, read Teaching and assessment


Introduction to legal methods or equivalent.

Programme structure

Throughout the course, the lecture sessions are used to explain the law and regulation applicable to each theme, to develop international comparisons, and to introduce the case study seminar problems. The course uses English law and regulation (as informed by European human rights law) as the default teaching vehicle, but at all stages interrogates and compares equivalent laws in North American, European, and other comparable jurisdictions. The course will explore the following themes:

  • Freedom of Speech in Concept
  • Reputation and Defamation I (overview)
  • Reputation and Defamation II (specific concerns)
  • Privacy, Publication and Freedom of Speech
  • New Legal Technologies: the Impact of Data Protection Laws
  • Prejudicial Publicity and Contempt of Court
  • Regulating for Political Neutrality
  • Regulating to Avoid Harm and Offence
  • Terrorism and National Security
  • The Protection of Journalists’ Sources and Materials
  • Access to State Information I (freedom of information)
  • Access to State Information II (access to courts and court documents)
  • Regulating Surreptitious Journalistic Practice

Course outcomes

  • Critically evaluate ongoing developments in law relating to media publication and newsgathering
  • Display an understanding of how these developments relate to one another
  • Examine areas of doctrinal and political debate surrounding rules and theories
  • Compare and contrast the development of relevant laws and regulation in the UK with equivalent rules in other major jurisdictions
  • Draw on the analysis and evaluation contained in primary and secondary sources


LSE’s Law Department is one of the world’s best. In the UK, it was ranked first for research outputs in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) and in the top 5 law departments overall by The Complete University Guide in 2018. In the 2017 QS World University rankings, the Department was ranked seventh (out of 200 departments worldwide).

Many important subjects were first taught and examined systematically from an academic perspective in LSE’s Department of Law. We pioneered the study of banking law, taxation law, civil litigation, company law, labour law, family law, aspects of welfare law, and studies of the legal system and the legal profession, and continue to be the leading thinkers in our field.

On this three-week intensive programme, you will engage with and learn from full-time lecturers from the LSE’s law faculty.

Reading materials

The course will rely on three main texts and an array of other readings, all of which are made available to students electronically through the LSE library:

–  Hare and Weinstein (eds), Extreme Speech and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009).

– Millar and Scott, Newsgathering: Law, Regulation and the Public Interest (Oxford University Press, 2016).

–  Parkes and Mullis (eds), Gatley on Libel and Slander (12th rev edn, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2015).

*A more detailed reading list will be supplied prior to the start of the programme

**Course content, faculty and dates may be subject to change without prior notice

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