module specification

SJ5033 - Media Law and Ethics; Public Administration (2021/22)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2021/22
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
72 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
228 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 20%   2000 word portfolio: current reporting on public administration. Multimedia piece optional
Coursework 25%   2000 word portfolio: legal matters as displayed in recent cases.
In-Course Test 20%   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 2021/22
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 administration, 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; emergency 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 multimedia), an essay, and an online journal moderated by tutors at the end of the year.

Prior learning requirements

Completion of level 4 modules


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. 

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.

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

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.    

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.

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.

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

Finally, through writing on these theories and histories, they will sharpen writing and presentation skills through reflecting on feedback from staff and other students. Such written work will help demonstrate employability for the PDP

Learning Outcomes LO 1 - 5

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

For most of the 27 teaching weeks, a three-hourly session will require students to listen, to write and to speak, to work with each other and individually. They will also need to take notes, present independent research and ideas and contest information presented by staff.

In enhancement and news weeks, field trips, guest speakers and screenings will complement one-to-one tutorial and coaching sessions. The magistrates’ court and Crown Court visits, as well as visits to local council meetings, are a key part of this course.

Feedback will be given one-to-one in class and electronically. Electronic resources, including the university’s virtual environment, will be used by students and staff.

In developing employability, accuracy and understanding of legal matters are highlighted. However, social skills, of listening, debate and presentation, are also important in the profession of journalism and these will be supported by the teaching and learning strategy.
The module will be supported by a VLE site containing notes, readings and extended bibliographies, and weblinks.

Opportunities for creating PDP will be fully supported, notably in multimedia pieces – piece to camera or voicer from council /court steps.

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, and applying that knowledge to current news contexts and issues;
2. Communicate and apply the ethical concepts within professional media practice;
3. Write and produce legally watertight multimedia news products;
4. Answer questions about the judicial system;
5. Demonstrate through examples how media and journalists are situated within the legal system.

Assessment strategy

An initial formative assessment set in week 2 will be handed in week 4 and returned in week 5 (this is not weighted, so not on grid, but is compulsory). Further formative assessment will comprise short weekly written exercises both creative and critical, and feedback on class contributions to seminars and workshops. Tutorials will offer formative assessment on drafts for portfolios.

Summative assessment will comprise: two portfolios demonstrating knowledge of current practice in the fields of journalism, law and public affairs. A final essay on a current issue and a test on legal knowledge.

Students will keep a journal to reflect on their learning journey, which will assess engagement with class.This will be moderated by tutors at the end of the year, but formatively responded to every week.

Written feedback will be provided electronically for all summative assessments. Summative assessments will take place at three intervals during the module, timed to be effective alongside other subject-specific modules.

In each case of summative assessment feedback will be given to the student within a two-week period. All work will be marked individually.
Assessment 1 will assess LO 1 and 2
Assessment 2 will assess LO 3,4,5,6,8
Assessment 3 will assess LO 4,5,7,8
● Assessments 4 and 5 will assess all LOs


Core texts

Banks, David and Hanna, Mark. (2016). McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists: Oxford University Press. Oxford
Brooke, H. (2010) The Silent State: Cornerstone. London
Davies, N. (2014). Hack Attack, How The Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch: Chatto and Windus. London
Frost, C. (2011). Journalism, Ethics and Regulation: Longman, London
Keeble, R. (2001). Ethics For Journalists: Routledge, London
Quinn, F (2015). Law for Journalists: Pearson, London
Winnet, R & Raynor, G. (2009). No Expenses Spared: Bantam, London

Additional texts

Bogdanor, V. (2009). The New British Constitution: Hart Publishing London
Beckett, C. (2008). SuperMedia, Saving Journalism so it can Save the World: Blackwell, Oxford
Curran, J and Seaton, J. (2003). Power without responsibility: Routledge. London
Davies, N. (2009). Flat Earth News: Vintage. London
Davies, N. (2014). Hack Attack, How The Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch: Chatto and Windus. London
El-Gingihy, Y. (2015). How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps: John Hunt. London
Evans, H. (2009). My Paper Chase: Little, Brown, NYC
Fenton, N. (2010). New Media, Old News: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age: Sage. London
Harding, L (2014).The Snowden Files: Vintage, London
Harcup, T. (2007). The Ethical Journalist: Sage, London
Jones, E, Menon, A and Weatherill, S. (2012). The Oxford Handbook of the European Union: Oxford University Press, Oxford
Kieran, M. (1998). Media Ethics: Routledge, London
Leigh, D & Harding,L. (2011). Wikileaks, Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy: Guardian, London
Lewis, J. (2003). The Mammoth Book of Journalism: Robinson, London
Lloyd, J. (2011). Scandal! News International and the Rights of Journalism: Reuters Institute, London
Manjoo, F. True Enough (2008). Living In A Post-Fact Society: John Wiley & Sons, London
Marr, A. (2004). My Trade, A Short History of British Journalism: Macmillan, London
Marquand, D. (2014). Mammon's Kingdom: Penguin, London
Monbiot, G. (2000). Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain: Macmillan, London
Morrison, J. (2015). Public Affairs for Journalists: NCTJ [CORE] London
Morrison D & Tumber, H. (1988). Journalists At War. London: Sage, London
Moore, R & Murray, M. (2012). Media Law and Ethics: Routledge, London
Sanders, K. (2003). Ethics & Journalism: Sage, London
Street, J. (2011). Mass Media, Politics and Democracy: Macmillan, London
Watson, T & Hickman, M. (2012). Dial M for Murdoch: Allen Lane, London
Whyte, D. (2015). How Corrupt is Britain? Pluto, London
Wilson, D and Game, C. (2011). Local Government in the United Kingdom: Palgrave MacMillan, London
Wrigley, C. (2015). British Trade Unions since 1933, Cambridge: Cambridge  University Press
Zion, L & Craig, D. (2015). Ethics for Digital Journalists: Routledge, London