Communication and Media Studies 400

COMS 400: Media Law and Ethics

Prerequisites: COMS 130 and COMS 230, or permission of instructor

Credit Hours: (3)

Examination of basic legal concepts and legal problems affecting mass media and media professionals. Includes case studies from the areas of constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory agency decisions. Principles and case studies in mass media ethics explored.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

Professional communicators are among the beneficiaries of laws that enhance the free flow of information, and understanding the law may often be necessary to participating fully in the benefits. On the other hand, communicators may find themselves at odds with the law when their roles place them in conflict with others over competing rights.

Knowledge of the law and the U.S. legal system can help the journalist steer a safer course through the currents of public discourse and private investigation. Therefore, students will be introduced to the basic legal system--law and courts--in the United States and will systematically study the following areas of law affecting the mass media:

1. Origins of freedom of expression
2. First Amendment theory and prior restraint
3. Freedom of expression and individual/societal rights: law of defamation, privacy, copyright, obscenity, access to information, public access to media
4. The government and media regulation a) broadcasting and newer media, b) advertising c) media ownership, d) taxation and licensing.

Students will also explore the philosophical foundations of codes of ethics and will discuss decision-making in the areas of editorial ethics (embracing reporting and expression of opinion), advertising ethics, public relations ethics and media entertainment ethics.


Detailed Description of the Conduct of Course

Using the case study approach and a required textbook in the field of media law, students will be guided through the study of the areas of law mentioned previously. The development of skill in analyzing and synthesizing points of law will be encouraged through discussion of hypothetical cases created and presented by the instructor. Students will be required to prepare note card summaries of important cases from the textbook.

For the media ethics component of the course the instructors may employ case studies--real and hypothetical--and occasional role-playing to stimulate students to think about the basis of ethical decision-making, as well as the practical consequences of choosing alternative courses of action. Students will also be required to investigate a specific topic in media ethics and to prepare a research paper of 8-10 pages.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Although many students who take this course become interested in law as a career, it is not the purpose of this course to prepare students for the continuing study of law. Rather, students interested in media careers will demonstrate an understanding of the legal system and the law affecting mass communication. Students will sharpen their skills in reading comprehension and analytical thinking. It is also a purpose of this course to help the student begin to develop personal ethical standards for professional conduct.


Assessment Measures

A research paper will be used to evaluate knowledge and awareness of media ethics. Three one-hour tests plus the final exam will test comprehension of cases and principles in media law. The tests will combine multiple-choice questions and a written portion that will require the student to analyze hypothetical cases and apply the law and principles s/he has learned.


Other Course Information



Review and Approval

Joe Flickinger, Chair