Communication Studies (CMNS) 455

Media Ethics (Revision 1)


Revision 1 is closed for registrations, replaced by current version

Delivery Mode: Individualized study online

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: None. CMNS 301 or a course in communication theory is recommended but not required.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

Communication Studies home page

CMNS 455 is not available for challenge.


This is a course about the ethics of journalism. It provides students with an introduction to the different philosophical views of ethics; a critical examination of the rights, responsibilities, limitations, and abuses of media in democracies such as Canada and the United States; and an analysis of emerging pressures to redefine journalism as a reliable, responsible process of accurate reportage and critical commentary on our society.


Students completing the course will better understand the use and abuse of sources, research materials, quotes, the positioning and concealment of information, plagiarism, ethics as it relates to the coverage of criminal and terrorist acts, and the role of the news media in exposing or validating public prejudices.

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  1. Analyze and discuss contemporary journalism in a variety of media.
  2. Understand and evaluate scholarly and critical works about ethics in media production practices.
  3. Formulate your own critical analyses of the role of ethics in news coverage.
  4. Understand and discuss media codes of ethics and their application in Canada, the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
  5. Explain the balance of rights and responsibilities involved in media practices by media organizations and journalists.
  6. Understand and discuss the social, political, and ethical implications of media.
  7. Discuss the various roles of media in public life.
  8. Explain the ethics involved in selection of sources and research material by news media.


Part 1: The Ethics of News Gathering (Units 1 to 4)

  • Unit 1: Codes of Ethics and the Information Professional
  • Unit 2: Ethical Intentions vs. Actual Practices
  • Unit 3: Journalistic Formats: Narratives and Media
  • Unit 4: What Does It Mean To Be 'Ethical'?

Part 2: Real Information vs. Pseudo-Information (Units 5 to 7)

  • Unit 5: Four Information Models
  • Unit 6: Reality and Representation
  • Unit 7: The Pursuit of Truth

Part 3: The Warping Effect of Economic/Political Interests (Units 8 and 9)

  • Unit 8: Money and Power
  • Unit 9: Wrangling the News: the Roles of Public Relations and Media Organizations

Part 4: Special Situations: Justice, Health, Violence (Units 10 to 12)

  • Unit 10: The Ethics of Reporting on Justice
  • Unit 11: The Ethics of Reporting on Health
  • Unit 12: The Ethics of Reporting on Violence

Part 5: The Theory and Practice of Codes and Standards (Units 13 and 14)

  • Unit 13: Codes of Conduct
  • Unit 14: A Free Press . . . In Spite of Everything?


To receive credit for CMNS 455, students must complete all assignments and achieve a course composite grade of at least “D” (50 percent). The weighting of the composite mark is as follows:

Assignment 1 Assignment 2 Assignment 3 Assignment 4 Total
25% 25% 10% 40% 100%

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Merrill, J. (1997) Journalism ethics: Philosophical foundations for news media. Boston/New York: Bedford St. Martin’s Press.

Russell, N. (2006). Morals and the media: Ethics in Canadian journalism (2nd ed.). Vancouver: UBC Press.

Other Materials

Other than the textbooks, the course materials for CMNS 455 are available online through the myAU portal.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 1, October 18, 2010.