At a glance:   This session discussed the growing importance of such gatherings as the Media Law Conference, and the need for journalists and media companies to cooperate and support each other by forging links and alliances.  Free speech and its rights are now an end in themselves.  Citizens have a right to know what’s going on in their governments and need to hold authorities to account.  Lord Lester argued it was important for the media “to get into the minds of those who oppose you,” i.e., it was important to hear from governments on these issues.  It was noted that government officials were invited, but that they either did not attend or chose to be silent during the conference.

Panel G: Challenges and Opportunities: the Road Forward (60 min)
Moderator: Prof. Ying Chan
Speakers: Lord LesterMs Gill PhillipsProf. Andrew KenyonMr. Danny GittingsMr. H.R. Dipendra

This panel concluded by reflecting on the major themes and issues explored over  the two-day conference.  Quoting Judge Learned Hand’s insight that “The spirit of liberty is one which is not too sure that it is right”, Lord Lester encouraged reformists to avoid one-sided debates, and instead urged a deeper probe into the mindsets and arguments of opponents in order to produce meaningful progress in the battles to safeguard free speech.  Despite the need to safeguard the freedom of expression with the utmost scrutiny, prevalent concerns underlying state secrecy and national security could not be simply brushed aside.

Gill Phillips stressed the need to recognize the nuances inherent in free speech rights, which are “not ends in themselves, but serves a democratic function in the public interest”, such that only an informed public could take part meaningfully in public debates and hold those in power into account.  The importance of plurality was also accentuated, since a climate with diverse voices and opinions can be heard is instrumental to a flourishing media.  A heightened awareness on the growing ambit of government power is warranted, particularly in issues of surveillance and barriers to news publication on the pretext of national security, as highlighted by the David Miranda and Edward Snowden affairs.  She acknowledged the usefulness of conferences such as the present one in providing practical opportunities to forge links and alliances in continuing the fight.

Professor Andrew Kenyon reiterated the need to develop new legal solutions in engaging with continuous changes in the media landscape.  In particular, although law tends to develop by way of construing binary analyses and analogies, new approaches to legal classifications are imminent in light of technological changes so as to allow meaningful participation in free speech.  HR Dipendra noted that Southeast Asia is “deep in the trenches” in the realm of restrictions to free speech, thus wide-ranging support is necessary to promote the rule of law and educate the judiciary.  Danny Gittings stressed that although the dusk has yet to settle in the UK with regard to setting a post-Leveson regulatory framework, media law reform efforts in the UK may well set the tone for other jurisdictions to some extent.

Concluding the conference, Professor Simon Young called for continuous dialogue and multi-disciplinary cooperation in order to instigate the necessary reforms.  While acknowledging that the road to reform will be full of impediments, more so for some jurisdictions than others, Doreen Weisenhaus summarized the sentiments of many in the audience when she expressed that she was “not pessimistic that change for the better is to come”.

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