module specification

SJ5033 - Media Law and Ethics; Public Administration (2024/25)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2024/25
Module title Media Law and Ethics; Public Administration
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 30
School School of Computing and Digital Media
Total study hours 300
90 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
210 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 20%   2000 word portfolio: current reporting on public administration.
Coursework 25%   2000 word portfolio: legal matters as displayed in recent cases. To include 1 minute piece to camera about court case
In-Course Test 20% 40 In-class test on legal knowledge: 70%on legal matters, 30% on media regulation
Coursework 25%   2000 word essay on an ethical issue for journalists
Coursework 10%   Engagement with class, assessed by online journal and moderated by tutor
Running in 2024/25

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year North Thursday Morning

Module summary

This module covers what student journalists need to know about how Britain works and the place of journalism within debates about ethics and the legal system. It is core for all journalism-related courses as everyone in the media needs to know how the system works.

Classes will look at the ethical and judicial frameworks and constraints which control the reporting of legal matters, including crime and its contexts.  Students will explore these subjects from the industry viewpoint, learning how to find and develop stories within the social and political landscape of Britain today.

Within public adminstration, classes will survey: national systems of government and representation; local government; citizen remedies and freedom of information; foreign policy, the EU and defence; social services and education; health; the judicial system (civil) and human rights; ermegency services; the criminal justice system, including police; finance and the stock exchange.

At the heart of this course is the study of ethics.  How journalists ought to behave – and what we can learn from those who do not behave properly – is particularly important to the profession. The public relies on the profession to give information. How should journalists get that information and how convey it?

Ethics gives a deeper meaning to the study of the legal system for journalists. Classes will locate the law which journalists need to know, both civil and criminal, within a broader ethical framework in today’s multi-platform, multi-national world. Analysis of current cases and case law will be as important as knowledge of existing frameworks and codes.

Field trips to magistrate’s courts and local authority meetings will be key to personal experience and understanding, as will guest speakers.

Discussion, research, screenings and visits will all play a part in developing students’ critical thinking skills and the professional skill of accurate, legally acceptable writing.

The module will be assessed by two portfolios (one of which includes multi media), an essay,  an online journal moderated by tutors at the end of the year, and an in-class legal knowledge test which students must pass in order to complete the module (an accreditation stipulation by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council).

Prior learning requirements

Available for Study Abroad? YES


The course will introduce key aspects of UK public affairs.  Each week, students explore stories which uncover the work of different institutions and research them in and out of class. Each week will centre on action research, where students analyse a topical piece of journalism to discover what knowledge and which sources were used to create an effective piece of writing. 
Public adminstration subjects will include: national systems of government and representation; local government; foreign policy, the EU and defence;  the emergency services; social services and education; health; finance and the stock exchange.  LO 1, 2, 9

Learning how British society fits together provides a context for understanding the law, particularly as it applies to journalists. As students dissect the workings of the judicial system (civil) and human rights and the criminal justice system, including the functioning of police, they gain an understanding of how stories are shaped and develop -- as well as discovering how to find and substantiate them. LO 2, 3

Students will become familiar with the workings of the whole legal system from Magistrates’ Courts to the Supreme Court.LO 5,7

They investigate the origins and consequences of ethical frameworks, historically and in the present day.  Exploring the relationship between ethical principles and legal codes and procedures will include such subjects as: confidentiality, anonymity and protection of sources; truth, deception and integrity; principles of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of information; human rights; secret/covert filming; investigative journalism; celebrity, private lives and public interest; conflicts of interest.    LO 3, 4, 5, 6

They survey the current legal system as it applies to journalists, including: libel, slander and defamation; copyright/intellectual property law; obscenity; privacy; protection of minors; court reporting restrictions; the Official Secrets Act; Race Relations legislation; the Human Rights Act.
Students will be tested on their knowledge of media law in relation to being a journalist, with students required to pass the test in order to pass the module as a whole, a requirement stipulated by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) accreditation.  LO 4, 5, 7, 8

Such knowledge will enable students critically to evaluate the role of industry regulators in relation to print and broadcast journalism. Written work will show evidence of critical awareness and the need to evaluate evidence with regard to sources. LO 4, 5, 6, 8

In enhancement and news weeks, through screenings, visits and guest speakers, they will gain personal experience which will deepen their understandings. LO 1,9

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Teaching of this module is a blend of workshops, lectures and site visits. The module maximises the potential of its Islington-based location, close to the sites of relevant activity in relation to public administration and criminal law, therefore making full use of the access to quality learning opportunities in north London, site visits including Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Wood Green Crown Court, the Old Bailey, St Pancras Coroner’s Court, and Mayor’s Question Time at GLA City Hall. In class, small group research, discussion and reflection is encouraged, followed by whole group debates to further consolidate learning outcomes through independent thinking. Students are called on through these small group/whole group research and debate workshops to apply theory in relation to public administration, media law and ethics in relation to current events on the news agenda, thus embedding the relevance of study to real events as they are encountered by contemporary working journalists. Student reflection is built into the architecture of module assessment with students writing Journal posts in Weblearn on a weekly basis. Reflection on multimedia journalistic technique is also encouraged, despite the more academic nature of the module, with students delivering news stories from the courts which are legally safe based on knowledge from class, plus video recorded pieces-to-camera from court, again emulating professional journalistic practice and encouraging reflection on class-based knowledge to deliver news products which are legally sound.

Learning outcomes

If students read all the required texts, participate in all the class activities and complete the required assessments and assignments, they will develop transferable skills, usable in the workplace and as citizens. They should be able to:
1. Write knowledgeably about key British institutions, taking into account their histories and current contexts;
2. Use political, social, economic and cultural factors to add context to stories, without losing a reader’s interest.
3. Develop the ability to research independently in varied fields of journalism;
4. Communicate the basic concepts of ethics and their application to media practice;
5. Write copy that is legally watertight, with regard to statute and case law;
6. Produce multi- media output that is legally sound;
7. Answer questions about the judicial system;
8. Demonstrate through examples how media and journalists are situated within the legal system;
9. Analyse and argue about live ethical and professional issues in journalism today.


Talis link:

Banks, David and Hanna, Mark (2017) McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists: Oxford University Press. (Core)
Bell, M (2009) A Very British Revolution: the expenses scandal and how to save democracy: Icon.
Bogdanor, V, (2009) The New British Constitution, Hart Publishing.
Brooke, H (2010) The Silent State: Cornerstone (Core)
Crewe, E & Walker, A (2019) An Extraordinary Scandal: the Westminster expenses crisis and why it still matters: Haus. (Core)
Davies, N (2014) Hack Attack, How The Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch: Chatto and Windus. (Core)
Frost, Chris (2011). Journalism, Ethics and Regulation. London: Longman
Harding, L (2014) .The Snowden Files: Vintage
Harcup, T (2007). The Ethical Journalist, Sage
Keeble, Richard (2001) Ethics For Journalists. London: Routledge. (Core)
Leigh, D & Harding,L (2011) Wikileaks, Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. London: Guardian
Marquand, D (2014). Mammon's Kingdom: Penguin
Monbiot, G (2000) Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain: Macmillan
Morrison, J. (2019) Public Affairs for Journalists: NCTJ (Core)
Moore, Roy and Murray, Michael (2012) Media Law and Ethics: Routledge
Quinn, F (2019) Law for Journalists: Pearson. (Core)
Rusbridger, A (2018) Breaking News: the remaking of journalism and why it matters: Canongate.

Travers, T (2020) London’s Mayor at 20: governing a global city in the 21st century, Biteback Publishing. (Core)
Watson, Tom and Hickman, Martin (2012) Dial M for Murdoch: Allen Lane
Whyte, D, (2015). How Corrupt is Britain? Pluto
Winnet, Robert and Raynor, Gordon (2010) No Expenses Spared: Bantam. (Core)