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 Five
Conclusion: Convergence of
Political Speech Protections

The present study was designed to answer two questions on political defamation by comparing and contrasting the prevailing jurisprudence in the United States, the ECHR, the United Kingdom and Australia. First, it examined whether the jurisdictions are converging or diverging, and found that recent developments in political defamation laws in the jurisdictions are converging. Legal developments in Australia and the United Kingdom in the 1990s have produced more areas of convergence than divergence with the other jurisdictions regarding political speech. While the United Kingdom is at a turning point, Australia has established a defamation law that protects political speech in government and political matters. Second, concerning the extent to which rationales for protecting political speech justify restrictions on libel laws in a democratic society, all the jurisdictions offered multiple rationales that weighed speech of legitimate public interest against individual reputation.

The multiple methods used to analyze the four jurisdictions revealed that social and political conditions shaped the jurisprudential history of the United States, the ECHR, the United Kingdom, and Australia.1 The social and political factors combined with the principles of democracy to inspire rationales for protecting free speech. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when arguments for protecting free speech became dominant at a point in the countries' history, shifts in constitutional and common law understandings brought reforms in the countries' defamation laws. In the United States, suppression of speech through criminal libel prosecutions tumbled as liberal ideas for speech opposed such prosecutions and argued for protection of political speech. The analyses indicated that the United States Supreme Court's main justification in political defamation cases rested on self-expression,

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