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Defamation and the Media - LAWS8014
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Faculty: Faculty of Law
School:  Faculty of Law
Course Outline: See below
Campus: Kensington Campus
Career: Postgraduate
Units of Credit: 6
EFTSL: 0.12500 (more info)
Indicative Contact Hours per Week: 2
Enrolment Requirements:
Academic Program must be 9231 or 5231 or 9220 or 5750 or 9200 or 5740 or 9210 or 9230 or 9214 or 5214.
CSS Contribution Charge:Band 3 (more info)
Further Information: See Class Timetable


The broad aims of this course are twofold: first, is to consider the significant restraints that defamation law and associated causes of action place on what can be published by the media; and second, is to consider whether the extent and scope of such restraints are appropriate. These aims are pursued through a detailed comparative analysis of defamation law in Australia, the UK and the US, as well as by looking at many of the practical aspects of defamation law that contribute to its impact on media freedom. Particular focus is placed on questioning the appropriate balance between the protection of personal reputation and the media’s perceived role in a democratic society as both ‘watchdog’ and ‘bloodhound’.

LLM Specialisations

Recommended Prior Knowledge


Course Objectives

A candidate who has successfully completed this course should:
  • have a detailed understanding of, and the ability to apply, Australian ‘black-letter’ defamation law;
  • identify and understand the practical issues that arise from liability under defamation law and how these impact on what the media can and/or will publish;
  • be able to critically evaluate the balance that is struck in defamation law between the protection of reputation and the protection of freedom of speech, drawing on examples from Australian, the UK and the US;
  • be able to critically evaluate key areas for reform;
  • be able to engaged in a sophisticated manner with a broad range of defamation law scholarship.

Main Topics

  • history of defamation law and the protection of reputation
  • overview of theoretical aspects of freedom of speech, the media and democracy
  • defamation: the cause of action in Australia, the UK and the US
  • defences to defamation
  • conflict of laws and jurisdiction, particularly in the context of internet publications
  • practical aspects of defamation
  • alternatives to defamation: Australian Press Council, Press Complaints Commission


Class participation (Preparation and engagement in class) 20%
Take-home practical exercise or Essay  (6,000 words) 80%

Course Texts


  • Des Butler and Sharon Rodrick, Australian Media Law (Pyrmont: Lawbook Co, 3rd ed 2007)
  • Andrew T. Kenyon, Defamation: Comparative Law and Practice (Oxford: UCL Press, 2006)
  • Eric Barendt, Freedom of Speech (Oxford: OUP, 2nd ed 2005)
  • Helen Fenwick & Gavin Phillipson, Media Freedom under the Human Rights Act (Oxford: OUP, 2006)
  • Geoffrey Robertson & Andrew Nicol, Media Law (London: Penguin Books, revised 5th ed, 2008).


Refer to Course Outline provided by lecturer at the beginning of session.

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© The University of New South Wales (CRICOS Provider No.: 00098G), 2004-2011. The information contained in this Handbook is indicative only. While every effort is made to keep this information up-to-date, the University reserves the right to discontinue or vary arrangements, programs and courses at any time without notice and at its discretion. While the University will try to avoid or minimise any inconvenience, changes may also be made to programs, courses and staff after enrolment. The University may also set limits on the number of students in a course.