Media Power, State Power, and the Law: Who Watches the Watchmen?

Course description Media Power, State Power, and the Law: Who Watches the Watchmen?
Year: 2015-2016
Catalog number:
Teacher(s):
  • Prof.mr. A.W. Hins
  • Dr. P.J.I. van Aelst
  • Dr. J.P. Burger
  • Prof.dr. J.C. de Jong
  • Dr. J.S. Oster
  • R.K. Tromble
Language: English
Blackboard: Yes
EC: 5
Level: 400
Period: Semester 2
  • No Elective choice
  • No Contractonderwijs
  • No Exchange
  • No Study Abroad
  • No Evening course
  • No A la Carte
  • Yes Honours Class

This course is an Honours Class and therefore only available for students of an honours college

Enrolling in this course is possible until the 15th of November, using the link at ‘registration’ during this period.

Description

The media have an enormous power to influence public opinion. In a democracy, the law should protect media freedom, but also guarantee pluralism and fairness. In this course, we shall explore the dilemmas of today from three different angles: journalism, politics and the law.

If you want to organize a coup d’etat, it makes little sense to occupy the building where parliament meets. It is much more important to gain control over transport, telecommunications and television. On television, you can depict the previous government as criminals and tell the public that the country is now in better hands. Popular amusement will make people stay at home instead of protesting in the streets. It is more difficult to manipulate the internet than traditional broadcasting stations, but not impossible. In Russia, the government allegedly spends millions of euros each year, paying ‘trolls’ for posting pro-government comments on social websites. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the flood of pro-Russian comments is part of a coordinated ‘informational-psychological war operation’. A Twitter ‘bots network’ was documented to use over 20,500 fake Twitter accounts to spam hateful comments after the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and to justify the war in Donbass.

Is the situation in the West perfect? Unfortunately, no. In the USA, a presidential candidate cannot win an election without massive financial support. It is crucial to buy lots of advertising time on television. In the 1970’s, Congress made a law, limiting the amount of money that corporate sponsors can invest in election campaigns. The idea was, of course, that sponsors should not get too much power over political decision making. However, the Supreme Court declared this law unconstitutional, because it infringed the right to freedom of speech. In the United Kingdom, the News of the Word scandal is famous. This newspaper had committed numerous unethical and criminal acts, just to make more profit. In the wake of this scandal, the so-called Leveson enquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press was started. In 2012, Lord Leveson suggested that the traditional self-regulation of the media in Britain is too weak and that it should be strengthened by law. His report is highly controversial, because opponents argue that the cure of more State involvement is worse than the disease of an unethical press.

In a democracy, media have an important role to play as watchmen against government abuses. Students in this course will prepare a multidisciplinary symposium on the question ‘Who watches the watchmen?’. The symposium will take place in June 2016. Distinguished scholars from the Netherlands and abroad will comment on research papers by the students. Ideally, the papers are written by at least three students (journalism, politics and law). Shortly after the symposium, each student has a meeting with two teachers, in which a grade will be given.

Programme

  1. 2 February: Introduction – from every discipline at least one teacher
    Subjects of this seminar: The concept of the media. Which role do the media play in a democracy? History of the printed press, broadcasting and internet. Present day problems.

  2. 9 February: Journalism – Jaap de Jong and/or Peter Burger
    Subjects of this seminar: Rhetoric and and propaganda, public opinion, ethics of journalism, trust in news media

  3. 16 February: Journalism – Jaap de Jong and/or Peter Burger
    Subjects of this seminar: Rhetoric and and propaganda, public opinion, ethics of journalism, trust in news media

  4. 23 February: Politics – Peter van Aelst and/or Rebecca Tromble
    Subjects of this seminar: Self-interest of governments, parliamentarians, media-owners and journalists. Agenda-setting. Osmosis and interdependence.

  5. 1 March: Politics – Peter van Aelst and/or Rebecca Tromble
    Subjects of this seminar: Self-interest of governments, parliamentarians, media-owners and journalists. Agenda-setting. Osmosis and interdependence.

  6. 8 March: Law – Wouter Hins and/or Jan Oster
    Subjects of this seminar: Media freedom, protection of fundamental rights against the media, the right to know, pluralism as a constitutional value.

  7. 15 March: Law – Wouter Hins and/or Jan Oster
    Subjects of this seminar: Media freedom, protection of fundamental rights against the media, the right to know, pluralism as a constitutional value.

  8. 22 March: Final session – from every discipline at least one teacher
    Teams will present the outlines of their papers. The papers must be written in English. Preparation of the symposium.

23 June 2016 (provisional date): Symposium

June 2016: Evaluations

Literature

  • Poler Kovačič, M., and Putten, A. van:
    ‘Reasons for adopting or revising a journalism ethics code : the case of three ethics codes in the Netherlands’. Medijska istraživanja, 2011, Vol. 17, No.1-2 – Groenhart, H.P., and Bardoel J.L.H.:
    ‘Conceiving the transparency of journalism: Moving towards a new media accountability currency’. Studies in Communication Sciences 2012, Vol. 12, p. 6-11 – Hout, T. van, and Burger, P.:
    ‘Mediatization and the language of journalism’. Tilburg papers in Culture Studies, Paper nr. 131. Tilburg: Tilburg University 2015 – Aelst, P. van:
    Media, political agendas and public policy. In C. Reinemann (ed.), Handbook of Political Communication. Berlin: De Gruyter-Mouton 2014, p. 231-248. – Oster J.:
    ‘Media freedom as a fundamental right’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015.

Additional literature will be suggested for specific research questions.

Period

Tuesdays 2, 9, 16, 23 February, 1, 8, 15, 22 March; 17:30 – 21:00 hrs
Symposium: Thursday 23 June (provisional date).

Location

Faculty of Law, room B0.35, Leiden

Assessment method

Final paper

Maximum number of students

20

Registration

Enrolling in this course is possible until 15 November via this link .

Contact

Prof. dr. Wouter Hins

Languages