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    Media Law and Ethics

    JMSC0019 Autumn 2008

    Journalism and Media Studies Centre

    The University of Hong Kong

John Young


    Office Telephone: 2219-4092

    Hours: by appointment

    Class Time/Location: Tuesday, 3 pm 4:55 pm. Meng Wah, S-103. Tutorials: Friday, 2-2:55 p.m., Eliot Hall, Room 101 or Friday 3:00-3:55 p.m., Eliot Hall

    Room 102

    Course website:

    Course Description: This course examines the ethical and legal issues affecting journalism and journalists in Hong Kong and elsewhere, covering such topics as freedom

    of expression, defamation, privacy, information access, ethical standards and

    newsgathering techniques.

    Structure, Format and Readings: Classes will be held 2 pm. to 3.55 pm on Tuesdays beginning Sept. 2. You also are required to attend a one-hour weekly tutorial beginning

    Sept. 29 on Fridays (2-2:55 or 3-3:55 p.m.). The tutorial will give opportunities to

    discuss course materials in greater depth and to present group projects. One or two

    students will be assigned as discussion leaders for the tutorials.

    There is one required textbook, Hong Kong Media Law: A Guide to Journalists and Media Professionals (HKU Press 2007), available at the university bookstore. Students

    will be required to read selected chapters. Also, throughout the semester, other readings

    will be distributed or posted on the course website as required or recommended readings.

    In addition to assigned readings, students are expected to read daily newspapers and

    review other media outlets such as the Internet and television to keep abreast of current

    media law and ethics developments and cases.

Students as part of reporting teams or individually are expected to make a presentation of

    research on a current media law and/or ethics topic approved in advance by the instructor.

    During the semester there will be two quizzes. At semester’s conclusion, students will

    have a written, take-home exam. The exam will be distributed at the last class on

    November 25 and is due December 9. No late exams will be accepted. You must submit both electronic and paper versions of the exam and paper.


    Take-home, written exam: 40 percent

    Presentation: 30 percent

    Quizzes: 20 percent

    Tutorial/Class participation: 10 percent


Weekly Topics (subject to change depending on news events and speaker availability):

Week 1, September 2, 2008

    Overview of Media Law and Ethics. What is media law? What are media ethics? How

    are these concepts integrated? This session will explore some of the critical issues facing

    the journalism profession today in both ethics and law.


    ? Randall, The Universal Journalist, Chapter 2, “What Makes a Good Reporter?

    pp 1-13, and Chapter 3, “What is News?”, pp 22-30

    ? “Overview,” (Chapter 1), Hong Kong Media Law

Week 2, September 9, 2008

    Legal Systems and Freedom of Expression. Hong Kong has a tradition of a “free

    press.” What does a “free press” mean? How is freedom of expression protected in Hong

    Kong and elsewhere in the world? And how do these concepts fit into the legal system?

    What are the Basic Law, the common law and other key elements of the legal system?


    ? Nicole Kwan, Hong Kong Sedition Prosecutions in 1967

    ? Weisenhaus, “Ten Years After: Hong Kong Alive & Well?” Global Journalist

    (International Press Institute) Third Quarter 2007

    ? Lewis Macleod, “Analysis: Hong Kong journalists’ body reviews press freedom

    since the handover,” BBC Monitoring World Media, July 10, 2007. (See also,

    Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 2007 Annual Report, “Shrinking Margins:

    Freedom of expression in Hong Kong since 1997.”)

    ? “The Legal System,” (Chapter 2), Hong Kong Media Law

Week 3, September 16, 2008

    Media and Politics. What is the primary mission for today’s media? Should they educate, advocate, inform and/or entertain? Political turmoil, the growing regionalization and

    globalization of news and news organizations, talk radio and other developments are

    changing the role of the press today, particularly in the political process. And what will

    be the impact of any Article 23 legislation if and when it is reintroduced in Hong Kong?


    ? Kovach and Rosenstiel, “What is Journalism For?” The Elements of Journalism,

    pp. 15-33.

    ? Official Secrets and Sedition (Chapter 7), Hong Kong Media Law, pp. 137-144.

    ? “Tabloid Journalism Trumps Politics in Taiwan” EastSouthWestNorth, Aug. 2005

Week 4, September 23, 2008


The Press versus the Judicial System. What are the tensions between the right to a free

    press and the right to a fair trial? This class examines the role of journalists covering the

    courts, the legal system, reporting restrictions on court cases, contempt of court and more.


    ? Bob Steele, “Setting Priorities in Trial Coverage,” Poynteronline, Sept. 4, 2003.

    ? “Court Reporting and Contempt of Court,” (Chapter 4), Hong Kong Media Law

    ? Selected articles

Week 5, September 30, 2008:

    The Business of Journalism and Business Journalism. The consolidation and expansion of the news media have led to much change and fear about the impartiality and

    power of the media corporations. Have the corporatization of the media and the pressures

    for profits intruded into the newsroom? Does a media company’s business interests in

    China, for example, affect its news coverage? And what ethical and legal issues do

    business reporters face in covering the media and other industries?


    ? Randall, “The Limitations of Journalism,” The Universal Journalist, pp. 14-21.

    ? Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, “Who Journalists Work For,” The Elements of

    Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect

    (Crown Publishing 2001), pp. 50-69.

    ? Chris Yeung, “Daily’s sale would mark end of an independent era,” South China

    Morning Post, Jan. 15, 2006.

    ? Weisenhaus, “Hong Kong Media Ownership Trends: A Case Study of

    Conglomeration, Expansion and the Rise of the Market Principle,” Mass Media

    and Development in the Asia-Pacific (Marshall Cavendish 2007), excerpts.

    Supplementary Readings (posted online on course website): The State of the News Media 2007, Project for Excellence in Journalism Who Owns What, Columbia Journalism Review

    A Way Out? By Douglas McCollam, CJR, Jan/Feb 2006

    Saving Journalism, By Philip Meyer, CJR, Nov/Dec 2004

    100 Top Media Companies

Week 6 October 7, 2008

    Lecture and Tutorials Cancelled in Observation of 重陽節 (Chung Yeung Festival)

Week 7 October 14, 2008

    Reading Week


Weeks 8 and 9, October 21 and 28, 2008

    Defamation v. Reputation. When does reporting and criticism cross the line into

    defamation? Who can sue or be sued? How can journalists accused of defamation defend

    themselves? What roles do malice, motive and mistake play in these cases?


    ? “Defamation,” (Chapter 3), Hong Kong Media Law

    ? Berkoff v. Burchill, Court of Appeal, U.K. 1996 (What is defamatory?)

    ? Jameel v. Wall Street Journal Europe, House of Lords, UK, 2006 (What is

    responsible journalism?)

    ? Albert Cheng v. Tse Wai Chun, Court of Final Appeal, HK 2000 (What is fair


    ? Selected clips

Week 10, November 4, 2008

    Privacy and Journalistic Newsgathering. Journalists have been criticized for controversial reporting techniques, particularly those that impinge on privacy, including

    hidden cameras, deception and ambush interviews and photos. An examination of some

    of these techniques explores the legal and ethical issues surrounding them.


    ? “Privacy,” (Chapter 6)

    Hong Kong Media Law

    ? Chris Yeung, “Despite privacy clamour, Tsang won’t rein in media,” South China

    Morning Post, September 3, 2006.

    ? Jonathan Cheng, Twins rumpus may leave legal mark,” The Standard, Sept. 11,


    ? Weisenhaus, “Privacy law in Hong Kong: Consider the big picture,” SCMP, Sept.

    4, 2006

    ? Media scrum as Fei Fei rushed to intensive care,” The Standard, Oct. 12, 2007

Recommended Reading:

    ? Report on Civil Liability for Invasion of Privacy, The Law Reform Commission,

    sub-committee on privacy, December 2004

    ? Report on Privacy and Media Intrusion, The Law Reform Commission, sub-

    committee on privacy, December 2004


Week 11: November 11, 2008

    Confidentiality: Access to Information, Official Secrets, Protecting Sources. The media face many legal issues involving confidentiality of information. When can the

    government legitimately invoke official secrecy or restrict boundaries of newsgathering?

    To what information do the public and press have right of access? When can reporters

    claim confidentiality when it comes to protecting their sources?


    ? “Access to Information,” (Chapter 5) and “Other Restrictions on Newsgathering

    and Reporting,” (Chapter 8),

    Hong Kong Media Law

    ? Jimmy Cheung, “Officials breached code on data access; Transport bureau wrong

    to deny researcher’s request for railway suicide details,” SCMP, Aug. 20,

    2007.(on course website)

    ? Albert Wong, “Fighting for Transparency,” “Information Rights Code Lacks Real

    Bite,” and

    UK Model Replaces Culture of Secrecy with Openness,” The Standard, Oct. 10,

    2005. (on course website)

    ? Code of Access to Information

    ? Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (Cap 201), Section 30, the Laws of Hong Kong

    ? Silencing Sources: New Global Survey on Protection of Journalism Sources”,

    Nov. 2007

Week 12, November 18, 2008

    Visual Journalism: Obscenity, Violence and War. As media have become more visual

    in a digital age, the use of images, video and photographs raises special concerns for

    journalism. From staged and altered photographs to the use of obscene, violent or war

    images, should there be ethical and legal boundaries beyond which the media cannot go?


    ? David Bauder, “Cell-phone Videos Transforming TV News,” The Associated

    Press, Jan. 7, 2007.

    ? Displaying death with dignity,” Jan 2007, and “Dealing with shocking images,”

    Dec. 2006, Poynter Online.

    ? Alex Lo, “Nude photo of ’student’ draws flood of criticism,” SCMP, June 26,

    2003/ “Papers rebuked over pictures of dead officer,” SCMP, Dec. 26, 2000

    ? Presiding Magistrate Selwyn Au, Hong Kong Obscene Articles Tribunal, Feb. 20,

    2003 ruling on Eastweek magazine on Carina Lau cover story.

    ? National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics (2004) and Hong

    Kong’s Joint Code of Ethics (including for photojournalists) and Visual Reporting

    Ethics from Poynter Institute.


Week 13, November 25, 2008

    Examining Ethical Standards. The potential remedies for when journalists make mistakes or mischief can include ethical codes of conduct, press councils, and other

    forms of regulation. But when the media industry regulates itself, is it practicing self

    discipline or self censorship?


    ? Randall, The Universal Journalist, Chapter 13, “Ethics,” pp 132-140

    ? Chester Yung, “Foundation aims to lift journalists’ standard,” SCMP, 24 June 2007.

    ? “A Statement of Shared Purpose” and “What to Expect From the Press: Citizens Bill

    of Journalism Rights,” Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of

    Concerned Journalists, ? Declaration on Fundamental Principles Concerning the Contribution of the Mass

    Media to Strengthening Peace and International Understanding, to the Promotion of

    Human Rights and to Countering Racialism, Apartheid and Incitement to War,

    UNESCO Document 20C/20 21, November 1978; "Why the NWICO Never had a

    Chance with the American Media, Joseph A. Mehan, International Communications

    School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

    ? Steele, “Guiding principles for the Journalist” (March 29, 2000); “Can ethics trump

    law?” (Sep. 14, 2003); “Ask these 10 questions to make good ethical decisions” (Feb.

    29, 2000), Poynteronline

    ? Selected ethics codes from Hong, Asia, Europe, U.S. and elsewhere. See (newspaper codes, including NY Times) (worldwide codes) (European codes)

     International Federation of Journalists

     Hong Kong Journalists Association


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