Tweeting and questioning free expression


It’s gratifying how well students seem to advance their understanding of free expression issues by tweeting about them and extending their inquiry through deeper questions.

Some months ago I unveiled a new media teaching law aimed to help students update their knowledge while triggering key questions they might explore.

Since then I’ve trialled it with one university class and have redesigned it for my new crop of students this year.

It involves students completing their weekly chapter readings from their text and, firstly, tweeting to the class hashtag (#MLGriff) a recent development in that topic area (perhaps a news story, court case, report or blog). Next, they frame an extension question from their textbook – something they still wonder about after reading the chapter.

Our first topic for the year was Freedom of the Press and more than 100 students came up with some excellent resources and questions for discussion.

Their tweets on new developments can be grouped broadly into:

  • Australian updates (High Court free speech decisions, media regulation push, access to detention centres, and Assange’s rights as an Australian citizen);
  • International updates (Greek and Somali crackdowns, Hong Kong protests, Vietnam and Burmese censorship, Mexican murder of a journalist, British campaign against seditious libel, Turkish PM’s media threats); and
  • Social media implications (YouTube bans, Facebook’s news push, social media as the Fourth Estate, unmasking trolls, cloud censoring and Twitter as a polarising agent.)
  • Some of the students’ questions would make excellent topics for future blogs, while others would need a PhD thesis to explore.

Here is a selection, credited to the students who asked them of course:

–       Why has the Australian Federal Government not codified freedom of the press laws despite the High Court making a number of rulings on the issue over the past 20 years? (Christopher Young)

–       As Australia does not have a bill of rights guaranteeing the protection of free expression, how heavily can journalists rely on government support? (Tiarna Lesa)

–       Although lying is not a crime, should it be protected speech for politicians? (Emma Lasker)

–       In a global community, fuelled by the Internet, is it sustainable or viable for some countries to have greater restrictions on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression than others? (Jessica Payne)

–       Has social media and freedom of speech and the press in Australia given us too much liberty to be opinionated – to the point where it becomes difficult for government to make popular political decisions? (Annabel Rainsford)

–       Do the current laws of freedom of speech cover every aspect of the Internet or social media or should new extensive laws be put into place? (Michelle Roger)

–       With no professional awareness of media law and ethical boundaries, can citizen journalists be treated as harshly in the legal system as qualified journalists? (Michaela Eadie)

–       Does freedom of speech protect victims of crime and their families? (Kristy Hutchinson)

–       Are laws that assist the freedom of the press too lenient in a time where false information can be so easily disseminated and seen as factual? (Simon Eddy)

–       Is popular opinion the difference between freedom of speech and vilification? (Ashley Pearson)

–       In the aftermath of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, how has the public’s perception of freedom of the press changed? (Jacob Blunden)

–       How has each country’s political, cultural and historical background influenced their view on freedom of the press? (Emma Knipe)

–       To what extent does the media influence our thoughts and our ability to make informed decisions ourselves? (Harrison Astbury)

–       What are the legal consequences of cyber-bullying? (Angela Eisentrager)

–       Should Australian politicians be allowed to hide behind parliamentary privilege and not be subject to the same laws as other citizens? (Ranui Harmer)

–       Why does Australia have a higher Press Freedom ranking than the US when America has a Bill of Rights? (Jess Henderson).

I hope you can appreciate how much more animated the discussion was in our tutorials when students had thought so deeply about the issues and the key questions. Their tweets added material for fresh examples for their arguments.

It’s a recipe for deeper learning – for the students and me!

Follow us at #MLGriff as we work through media law topics over the next three months. The next topic is Open Justice and the students’ tweets have started to roll in. Chime in with a comment or example if you have one to share.

[The latest rubric follows. Feel free to borrow or adapt it with due credit.]


Media Law (Two hard copies needed at start of lecture/tute each week – one for your reference and one to submit. Not accepted by email, sorry.)


Date and topic this week:


YOUR ORIGINAL TWEET ON THIS WEEK’S TOPIC. Must include insightful comment and/or link to recent case or article on topic. NB. INCLUDE IN TWEET:  #MLGriff @journlaw











Criterion Poor Fair Good Excellent
Understanding of chapter readings        
Link to a recent development on this week’s chapter topic        
Clear and simple Tweet, perhaps with a witty twist?











Criterion Poor Fair Good Excellent
Understanding of chapter readings        
Important extension of inquiry BEYOND those readings        
Clear and simple question structure        

Other comments:












Example of EXCELLENT question on Defamation: “How has the High Court dealt with the political qualified privilege defence since the textbook was published in 2011?”

Example of POOR question on Defamation: “What is defamation and give an example?”


© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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