Libel Law, Political Criticism, and Defamation of Public Figures: The United States, Europe, and Australia

By Peter N. Amponsah | Go to book overview
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Chapter One
Political Speech and the Concept of Democracy

Freedom of speech is an umbrella of several forms of expression, but at the core of democratic self-government is political speech. Using the definition of Eric Barendt, “'political speech' refers to all speech relevant to the development of public opinion on the whole range of issues which an intelligent citizen should think about.”1 Because, political speech concerns potentially public issues, Cass R. Sunstein wrote that speech is considered “political when it is both intended and received as a contribution to public deliberation about some issue.”2

The elements of intent and receipt are requisite. The intent is present when speech is either intended as political or reasonably inferred from the issue as such. According to Sunstein, “Public deliberation can deal with social norms as well as with legal requirements… even if it does not bear explicitly on what government should do.”3 Whatever shape it takes, the important ingredient of political speech is that the intended and received speech contributes to political deliberation. Generally, “political speech is truthful facts or statements of opinion concerning government, or expression that contributes to the governing process. In practice,… it is speech that does not fall into less-protected categories of expression.”4 For example, criticism of parliamentary and public conduct of government, matters of civil rights, and issues of public debate on education fall within the protection of political speech.

One can say that the United States and other democracies highly value political speech because political speech concretely advances openness needed in self-government.5 Democratic societies value openness not only for allowing citizens' participation in decision making processes, but also to unmask government operations for public scrutiny. This emphasizes the socio-political nature of speech in a

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