Defining the moral community: the "ordinary reasonable person" in defamation law

Roy Baker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


This paper questions popular perceptions of the "ordinary reasonable person", defamation law's measure as to what is defamatory. Developing Robert Post's understanding of defamation law as policing society's "rules of civility" in relation to communications, this paper discusses how different understandings of ordinariness and reasonableness contribute to the law's mapping of the moral community. In particular the paper raises two issues. The first relates to the way in which the law deals with discord within the community of "ordinary reasonable persons". The paper demonstrates the uncertainty as to whether minority viewpoints are relevant in defamation law, a confusion originating in conflicting legal precedents. The second issue explored is the impact on defamation law of the phenomenon known as the "third person effect" and the potential for this to unnecessarily restrict speech. The relevance of both issues to law reform is then explored. The paper presents research-in-progress of the National Defamation Research Project, an unprecedented examination of Australian social attitudes run by the Communications Law Centre at the University of New South Wales.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunications Research Forum 2003
Place of PublicationCanberra
PublisherAustralian Government, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes
EventCommunications Research Forum - Canberra
Duration: 1 Oct 20032 Oct 2003


ConferenceCommunications Research Forum


  • defamation law
  • media law
  • journalists and the law
  • journalism and the law
  • free speech
  • social research
  • third person effect
  • third person perception
  • reputation


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