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When Dr Peter Coe studied Media Studies at school, little did he know this would spark an interest that would inform his life's research. After practising as a barrister, Peter is now a Lecturer in Law specialising in Media Law at the University of Reading.

Peter's research mainly focuses on free speech, media freedom and media regulation in the context of citizen journalism and other new types of publishers that have emerged in the digital age.

“My research interests stem from a very broad interest in media power, the influence of the media over us as individuals and as a society, what it can do for us (both the positives and the negatives), how the law can regulate the media and deal with some of the issues that arise through press misconduct.”

Research that feeds into teaching

Peter’s research on citizen journalism and free speech and regulation directly feeds into his teaching on the immensely popular Technology, Privacy and Internet Regulation module.

“I co-lead the optional module in partnership with a colleague. Within the half that I teach we talk about free speech, the way the press is regulated, citizen journalism and data protection. We also look at the regulation of online harms, including, for instance, misinformation and disinformation and hate speech.

The optional module is taught via interactive lectures and discussion-based seminars.

“As lecturers we try and stimulate the conversation, but it's very much driven by the students. For example, one of the issues we spent a long time talking about in relation to data protection was the use of facial recognition technology and how the law can catch up to deal with this new technology.”

Peter’s research does not just influence the content of the module but also the module’s assessments.

“There are six broad topics that students can choose from to write a report about. My colleague and I have based these questions, or topics, on our research. So for one of them, for instance, students were required to engage with the new online harms legislation that has just been published. Another issue that the students were ask to engage with was how social media has contributed to the spread of misinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic or democratic elections.”


Regulating new age journalism

Peter was recently awarded a book contract by Edward Elgar Publishing for his forthcoming monograph ‘Media Freedom in the Age of Citizen Journalism’

The book explores how the internet and social media have permanently altered the media landscape, changing the way that news is generated, published and consumed.

“The internet and social media allow anybody to be an independent blogger and contribute to public discourse. But, should these individuals be classed as media and therefore should they be subject to the same responsibilities and burdens that the traditional institutional press are subject to? Should they receive the same benefits as the institutional press? And how do we regulate them?”

The book will be published towards the end of 2021 and will serve as a key learning resource for law students, scholars, practitioners and policy-makers interested in information and media law, constitutional administrative law, communication and media studies, journalism and philosophy.

Making an impact

Peter’s work has led him to work with IMPRESS, which is the Press Recognition Panel's approved regulator of the UK press industry, to create a new Advisory Group on the development of its regulatory scheme for news publishers. The group that he has helped to form, and is now leading, consists of some of the world's leading academics in the fields of media law and communications policy, as well as influential journalists, policy makers and news publishers.

He has also been invited by the British Association of Comparative Law and the International Academy of Comparative Law to act as the UK’s 2021-2022 National Rapporteur  on ‘Freedom of Speech and the Regulation of Fake News’. His report will be submitted to the Academy at the International Congress of Comparative Law in Paraguay in October 2022.

The influence of Peter's research on citizen journalism and media freedom and regulation is not just demonstrated by his work with stakeholders in the UK. His articles have been cited in a number of different jurisdictions, including Canada, the USA, Australia, and around Europe. For example, some of his work on social media speech was cited by Austria in its response to the European Council on the regulation of social media platforms.