Media and Democracy, Communications 197

Syllabus (Spring, 2007)

Professor Rob Frieden
102 Carnegie Building
863-7996; E-mail:
Class Hours: Tues./Thur.  09:45 a.m.-11:00 a.m. 113 Carnegie
Office Hours: Monday 9-11 a.m.; Wed. 9-11 a.m. and by appointment


            In most nations citizens support the view that the media qualifies for special rights and protection from most forms of government censorship and regulation.  Press freedom results from the longstanding view that the media help us find the truth often by holding government representatives and others accountable for crimes, corruption and ineptitude, etc. 


Media institutions have come under close scrutiny with some critics questioning whether the media deserve special status particularly in light of allegations of bias and the proliferation of new media options.  An increasingly loud call for limitations on media autonomy and freedoms has arisen based on heightened concerns about national security and skepticism whether incumbent media outlets enhance democratic governance and civic participation.  World Wide Web sites, blogs, webcasts and other outlets vie for attention and impact in a marketplace of ideas that consolidates or diversifies depending on your perspective.


This course will provide students an opportunity to develop a better sense of the media’s role in democracies and other governance systems.  We will strive to achieve greater understanding about the media’s multifaceted role as an integral part of democratic society, but also as a profit seeking business.  The course will examine the traditional literature with an eye toward assessing what fundamental freedoms and roles persist based on current philosophical and policy challenges.


The course will seek to answer several key questions:


1)         What is the media’s role in democracy both theoretically and practically in light of current technological and marketplace developments?


2)         Do the media have a different and perhaps diminished role when operating across borders, in light of national sovereignty and different concerns and sensitivities?


3)         Should the media qualify for special treatment in terms of access to, and dissemination of information?


4)         What economic or political characteristics of the media make its output different from the production of generic “widgets”?


5)         What role, if any, should the government have in terms of the composition, operations and output of the media? 


6)         How does the emergence of the Internet change responses to the above questions?




In this course, students will learn to:


·         examine the role of established and new media in a representative democracy;


·        demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of media professionals and institutions in helping to frame public policies;


·        think critically, creatively and independently;


·        express complex thoughts in the spoken and written word; and


·        assess how and when the media works independently of, or cooperatively with, public policy stakeholders.




Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly and creative activity in an open, honest and responsible manner, free from fraud and deception, and is an educational objective of the College of Communications and the university.  Cheating, including plagiarism, falsification of research data, using the same assignment for more than one class, turning in someone else's work, or passively allowing others to copy your work, will result in academic penalties at the discretion of the instructor, and may result in the grade of "XF' (failed for academic dishonesty) being put on your permanent transcript.  In serious cases it could also result in suspension or dismissal from the university.  As students studying communication, you should understand and avoid plagiarism (presenting the work of others as your own).  A discussion of plagiarism, with examples, can be found at:  The rules and policies regarding academic integrity should be reviewed by every student, and can be found online at: , and in the College of Communications document, "Academic Integrity Policy and Procedures."  Any student with a question about academic integrity or plagiarism is strongly encouraged to discuss it with his or her instructor.




Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services, ODS located in room 116 Boucke Building at 814-863-1807(V/TTY). For further information regarding ODS, please visit their web site at  Instructors should be notified as early in the semester as possible regarding the need for reasonable academic adjustments.


Reading Assignments

            All reading assignments have a free World Wide Web link, or have been placed on electronic reserve.  I expect you to take advantage of the free access to The New York Times and USA Today.


       The course will have five written assignments due on a specific date by 5 p.m. without exception.  The course also will have three tests scheduled well in advance without a makeup date.  Each written assignment constitutes 10% of your grade.  Your best performance on two of the three exams each will constitute 25% of your grade.  The course also requires interaction between instructor and student.  I place a premium on class participation and dialog. 

I do not offer extra credit opportunities.  Additionally any student receiving a D or lower on any test must schedule an appointment with me.

After the completion of the course I will determine whether a curve should apply.  Absent a curve the following scale shall apply:

93 to 100 percent     =  A

90 to 92 percent       =  A-

87 to 89 percent       =  B+

83 to 86 percent       =  B

80 to 82 percent       =  B-

77 to 79 percent       =  C+

70 to 76 percent       =  C

60 to 69 percent       =  D

Below 59 percent     =  F

Week One:  Introduction and Review of the Traditional Literature Examination of Course Questions




John Milton, Areopagitica (1644):


Milton argued against English governmental licensing of the press and publishing.  He rejected the power of government pre-approval of all written materials prior to publication and dissemination.  Licensing can foreclose or reduce the aggregate amount of material available to citizens.  More importantly citizens, not government, should have the opportunity to seek the truth—a fundamental liberty: “give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all liberties.”


The liberty of self discovery is a “self-righting” principle—more information reaffirms the truth and exposes falsity.  Government licensing is prone to corruption and self-perpetuating judgments.


This view evolved into the marketplace of ideas theory/model articulated by Justice Holmes’ dissent in Abrams v. United States and elsewhere.


John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, Chapter 3 (1861)


Mill expanded on Milton’s ides of individual liberty to search for truth without government interference.   Mill suggested a limitation: when an individual jeopardizes others’ safety through his or her action, inaction or opinion.  This balancing test resonates with later formulate jurisprudential models such as the balancing of free speech rights with countervailing concerns about a clear and present danger for immediate lawlessness.  Societal interference is justified over private, individual affairs to prevent harm to others.


Suppression of opinion is bad, because it blots out the truth; no harm in subjecting false opinions to public scrutiny.  No opinion, no matter how outrageous is completely true or false.

“Not the violent conflict between the parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend to only one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth by being exaggerated into falsehood.” Accordingly, government cannot and should not control freedom of thought and opinion.


Zechariah Chafee, Freedom of Speech (1920):


Professor Chafee proposed a balancing test between societal and individual interests. 

“One of the most important purposes of society and government is the discovery and spread of truth on subjects of general concern.  This is possible only through absolutely unlimited discussion, because once force is thrown into the argument, it becomes a matter of chance whether it is thrown on the false side or the true, and truth loses all its natural advantage in the contest.  Professor Chaffee placed the boundary line of permissible speech close to the point where words give rise to unlawful acts.

Alexander Meiklejohn, Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government, Chpater 1, The Rulers and the Ruled (1948):

In an attempted refutation of the Holmes’ “clear and present danger” test, Meiklejohn created a dichotomy between absolutely protected speech and conditionally protected speech.  He emphasized 5th Amendment due process rights particularly in light of the possibility that government may overstate the potential for harm to abridge dissent, e.g., sedition laws.

While private harms may warrant conditional protection, speech related to public policy deserves absolute protection: “To be afraid of ideas, any idea, is to be unfit for self-government.  Any such suppression of ideas about the common good, the First Amendment condemns with its absolute disapproval.  The freedom of ideas should not be abridged.”

Week Two Examination of Traditional Media Models—Are They Still Viable?


In the Social Contract Model government and the governed execute an implicit contract for mutual benefit. We pay taxes, vote, comply with laws in exchange for stability and the largely unfettered opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps human nature threatens this deal, because players on both sides may cheat and anti-cheating institutions may not detect the breach,or may participate in it.  An independent media provides an effective check against cheating, provided it does not become part of the problem.



Jean Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract (1762)(Book 1, No.6);

Alexander Hamilton et al, The Federalist Papers, No. 84 (1787-88):


Quotations of Thomas Jefferson on Freedom of the Press:

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1Chapter 11, “Liberty of the Press in the United States (1899):

Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (1922) Chapter One, The World Outside and the Picture on Our Heads,”


Week Three--Marketplace of Ideas—Robust Debate Among an Informed Electorate

vs. Media Concentration—Does a Robust First Amendment Guarantee a Free Press, or Does the Media Manufacture Consent and Manipulate the News?


            Democracies thrive when governments can achieve collective goals without unnecessarily burdening any faction of the governed.  A fundamental safety value in what should be a constantly recalibrating process is the ability of the governed to petition the government, to redress grievances and freely to express even controversial views.  Open access by citizens and a free press contribute to an effective and legitimate government.  Presumably the “court of public opinion” evaluates political expression and rewards/legitimizes the most compelling views.  This endorsement process functions in much the same way as the marketplace determines winners and losers based on the dollar votes of consumers.


            The First Amendment and conceptualizing political discourse in terms of a marketplace draw a parallel between transactions involving widgets and mediated messages. In other words for some the same type marketplace function can occur for widgets or for news and public affairs.  Others disagree based on the view that an increasingly commercialized and concentrated, mainstream media has more concerns about selling advertising and copies of publications than lofty notions of contributing to public discourse on important issues.




Alexander M. Bickel, The Morality of Consent, Chapter 3 Domesticated Civil Disobedience: The First Amendment from Sullivan to the Pentagon Papers, pp. 55-88 (1975) (on electronic reserve).


Robert W. McChesney, The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century (2004); Chapter 4, The Age of Hyper-Commercialism (on electronic reserve).


James Fallows, Breaking the News/How the Media Undermine American Democracy, Chapter 6, News and Democracy, pp. 235-270 (2004) (on electronic reserve).


C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, The Mass Society (1956);

Week Four: Market Failure and Responding to Negative Externalities


            The marketplace of ideas, just like the marketplace for widgets, depends on the ability of transactions to occur without friction, i.e., high transaction costs and without bad consequences that the cost of the transaction does not reflect, i.e., negative externalities.  We will consider whether the media marketplace warrants special considerations and concerns in light of the potential for market failure and negative externalities.




C. Edwin Baker, Media Markets, and Democracy, Chapters, 1, Not Toasters: The Special Nature of Media Products, pp. 7-19; Chapter 3, The Problem of Externalities, pp. 41-62 (on electronic reserve).


Written Assignment One:


            Review the content available at one of the following “media watchdog” web sites, or from your own search.  Prepare a 2-3 page summary of the site’s content and your perception of the site’s agenda and bias, if any.  Why do you think this site exists?  Does the site identify its financial backers?


Web Sites


Accuracy in Media:


Center for Media and Democracy:

Center for Media & Public Affairs:

Center for Public Integrity:


Committee to Protect Journalists:


Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:


Free Press:


Freedom Forum:


International Freedom of Expression eXchange:


Media Channel.Org:


Media Matters for America:


Media Monitors Network:


Media Research Center:


Media Transparency:


Media Watch:


Media Wise:


Morality in Media:


National Coalition Against Censorship:


The Pew Center for People and the Press:


Reporters Without Borders:

Truth in Media:

Week Five: Test 1 and Review

Week Six: Case Studies that Test Traditional Media Models


Case Study: Protecting Sources vs. Fair Trials and National Security


            For the media to promote the pursuit of truth and to contribute to public discourse, it must disclose embarrassing facts about our government and private actors.  Few would object to the widespread dissemination about crimes, and news of government failing to do its job, or doing its job poorly.  However, one person’s news might be another person’s invasion of privacy.  In this age of heightened concern for national security government officials can characterize the function of the press as helping enemies and risking homeland security.  We will examine whether the press may have gone too far in its pursuit of the truth, or whether stakeholders invoke “red herrings” with an eye toward thwarting disclosure of newsworthy facts.




Washington Post, Peter Baker, Surveillance Disclosure Denounced; Disgraceful Say Bush of Reports, A 01 (June 27, 2006); available at:


New York Times, Patriotism and the Press (June 28, 2006); available at:


Wall Street Journal, Review and Outlook, Fit and Unfit to Print, A12 (June 30, 2006); available at:

Disclosing Valarie Plame’s Employment

New York Times, Judith Miller Goes to Jail (July 7, 2005); available at:

Case Study: Political Cartoons


Written Assignment Two

            Review the news media coverage of protests over editorial cartoon use of Mohammed’s image.  Select a press journalism model and apply its principles to this issue.  Determine whether this model would support editorial cartoons or not. 


Week Seven: Market Failure in Media Concentration: Assessing the Impact


            Two countervailing trends currently affect media and society.  On one hand technological innovations, entrepreneurialism and innovation combine to provide us with an unprecedented array of information, communications and entertainment (“ICE”) options.  On the other hand incumbent mainstream media continues to concentrate and consolidate.  Do we benefit from an embarrassment of riches provided by Internet web sites, blogs, podcasts and proliferating media outlets?  Do we similarly suffer when mainstream media becomes so concentrated and so captive to particular constituencies that their ICE products become biased, inferior in quality and limited in scope?




Ben H. Bagdikian, The New Media Monopoly, Chapter 1, Common Media for an Uncommon Nation  (2004), (on reserve);


Adam D Thierer, Media Myths: Making Sense of the Debate Over Media Ownership, Chapter 1, Introduction, pp. 1-22 (2005);

available at:


Robert B. Horwitz, On Media Concentration and the Diversity Question; draft manuscript (Oct. 2004); available at:


Bruce M. Owen, Confusing Success with Access: Correctly Measuring Concentration of Ownership and Control in Mass Media and Online Services, Progress on Point, Release 12.11, Progress & Freedom Foundation (July 2005).

available at:


Public Broadcasting Service, Moyers on America, Bigger and Bigger Media, watch the video clip and click on Who Owns the Media at:

Having a few huge corporations control our outlets of expression could lead to less aggressive news coverage and a more muted marketplace of ideas. Rifka Rosenwein, Why Media Mergers Matter, Brill's Content (December 1999)

“There are no limits to the growth of ideas.”  

Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies without Boundaries (1984)


Week Eight Case Study-- Video News Releases


Written Assignment Three:


            Use the Internet to find out everything you can about video news releases.  Prepare a 3-5 page summary that answers the following questions: What are video news releases?  How can they be abused?  Are they misrepresenting the truth, or simply saving journalists time and effort?  How are video news releases different from other attempts by stakeholders to “spin” media coverage?  What, if anything, has the United States government done about them?  Should governments do more?


            To start you off, see and


Week Nine: Exam 2 and Review


Weeks Ten-Thirteen Testing Media Models in an Internet Age


            For the remainder of the course we will examine the impact of new ICE technologies and expression outlets on society and on our individual lives.   These assessments may help us determine the ongoing viability of media in democracies and other forms of government.


Blogging and Democracy


            Do blogs provide individuals with new and powerful opportunities to participate in governance, or do blogs provide a new type of “vanity press”?




Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, We Media (2003-2006); available at:


Daniel W. Drezner and Henry Farrel, The Power and Politics of Blogs (Aug. 2004); available at:


Cass R. Sunstein, Democracy and Filtering, 47 Communications of the ACM, No. 12, pp. 57-59 (Dec. 2004); available at:


Recommended Reading


Reporters Without Border, Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents; available at:


Citizen Media


            If Blogs provide average citizens a “soap box” to redress grievances with more than local reach, then web-based video sites provide average citizens the opportunity to “scoop” Big Media on possibly major stories.  The combination of small, lightweight digital video recorders and free access to Web sites, such as YouTube, provide citizens new and enhanced ways to root out and expose private and governmental corruption, etc.  We will assess the impact of citizen-based, grass-routes media.




Tom Siebert, Citizen Media Beats Big Media, YouTube Blows The Whistle (Aug. 31, 2006); available at:


Jo Twist, The year of the digital citizen (Jan 2, 2006); available at:


Public Broadcasting Service, MediaShift, Mark Glasser, Your Guide to Citizen Journalism; available at:


Scan two or more of the following web sites:

Network Neutrality


            The Internet provides a compelling case for government incubation and anchor tenancy of a promising technology followed by a timely departure from management and investment roles.  On the other hand the Internet may become such a major medium for both political and commercial transactions that governments must step in to guard against violations of privacy, unfair trade practices, and attempts to tilt the competitive playing field in favor of one venture over others.  Proponents of Network Neutrality worry that without government imposed safeguards the ventures providing Internet transmission links can favor affiliates, stifle political expression and raise competitors’ cost of doing business.  Opponents argue that ventures need to recoup infrastructure investment, the Internet no longer has to be a one size fits all, “best efforts” network and network neutrality solves a problem that does not exist.




Jeff Chester, The End of the Internet? The Nation Feb. 1, 2006; available at:


Kyle Dixon et al, A Skeptic’s Primer on Net Neutrality Regulation, The Progress and Freedom Foundation, Progress on Point, Release 13.14 (June 2006);

available at:


Testimony of Professor Lawrence Lessig, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Hearing on “Network Neutrality,” (Feb. 7, 2006); available at:;


Testimony of Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, Inc., Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Hearing on “Network Neutrality,” (Feb. 7, 2006); available at:


Testimony of Gregory Sidak, Visiting Professor of Law Georgetown University Law Center, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Hearing on “Network Neutrality,” (Feb. 7, 2006); available at:;


Testimony of Kyle D. Dixon, Senior Fellow for Regulatory Law and Economics, The Progress and Freedom Foundation, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Hearing on “Network Neutrality,” (Feb. 7, 2006); available at:


Public Broadcasting Service, Moyers on America, Network Neutrality, watch the video clip and click on Network Neutrality: Bump on the Superhighway at:


Week Fourteen Media Operations Across Borders: Cultural Imperialism vs. Market Protectionism?


            Technological and marketplace innovations in ICE have expanded the reach of both mainstream and new media.  Globalization may not have eliminated indigenous tastes, but well funded, multinational media enterprises readily exploit market opportunities anywhere.  We will consider whether market access by foreign media ruins native culture, or promotes access to well funded, high quality content.  Additionally we will examine the strategies used by nations to counteract the potential negative externalities and political consequences of market penetration by outside media.


Case Study: China Embraces, But Tries to Control the Internet




Euichul Jung and Eunsung Kim, More Democracy or More Restriction: Global Internet Information Flows and Censorship in the Public Sphere on Cyberspace in China, paper presented at Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia 2006 (2006); available at:


Jack L. Qiu, The Internet in China: Data and Issues, Working Paper Prepared for Annenberg Research Seminar on International Communication (Oct. 1, 2003); available at:


Randolph Kluver and Chen Yang, The Internet in China: A Meta-Review of Research, 21 The Information Society, pp. 301-308 (2005)(on electronic reserve).


Conduct an Internet search on Google’s agreement to modify and limit search results originated in its China web site.  To start you off, see;



Written Assignment Four:


            Find, cite and summarize in 2-3 pages an academic or general circulation magazine article (of 8 pages or more) on the impact of the Internet on China.



Exam Three and Review


Written Assignment Five:


            Download and read: Jeffrey Chester and Gary O. Larson, A 12-Step Program for Media Democracy, The Nation, (July 23, 2002); available at;

            In three to five pages identify the strengths and weaknesses of the authors’ proposals.  In what ways do the proposals support or conflict with the media models discussed in class?  Are their First Amendment and other Constitutional limitations on what the authors propose?