News Media and the Emotional Public Sphere| The Emotional Public Sphere and Its Importance: Freedom of Speech as a Case Study — Commentary

Barry Richards


The concept of the emotional public sphere is outlined and illustrated by contrasting phantasies of the state in the public mind. The dilemma frequently encountered around the principle of freedom of speech—when to prohibit speech that threatens the freedom or security of others—is explored as a problem of managing toxicity in the emotional public sphere. It is proposed that the aim of such management should be the containment of toxic feelings, both those expressed by the speaker and those evoked in the audience/targets of the speech. To that end, moral intolerance is distinguished from existential intolerance, the latter being a form of response to hate speech that does not allow the emotions it expresses to be engaged with and thereby contained. The work of containment is seen to go beyond the decision to permit or proscribe, and to involve the news media and framing practices. Analogous to psychotherapeutic work with individuals, a default orientation toward permitting speech is suggested, although this requires contextual provision of measures to contain its effects.



public sphere, state, freedom of speech, audience, emotions

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