CMM 445: Legal and Ethical Issues 

Fall 2017 – MWF 1:00 – 1:50 p.m.

Instructor: David Swartzlander

Office: 105 Gaylord Hall

Office Telephone: 826-8269

Home Telephone: 643-5135


Office Hours: MTWTh: 9:30-11:30 a.m.; MWF: 2-3 p.m. Or by appointment.

You can call my cell phone in the evening (before 10:00 p.m.) or on weekends. Don’t worry about calling me at home. If I fail to answer, leave a message. I will get back to you.


Paul Siegel, Communication Law in America, Fourth Edition, Lanham, Md.: Rowan & Littlefield.

Christians, C. G., Fackler, M., Richardson, K. B., Kreshel, P. J. & Woods, R. H. (2017). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning, 10th Edition. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Course Description

This is a basic course in ethics and law in mass media. It is a requirement for Media and Strategic Communication majors. Students who expect to work in or with mass media should take this course.

Course Objectives

1) To recognize and understand the key laws and regulations that govern media institutions and their employees and to identify the significant areas of contention about them.

2) To develop a foundation to express a personal code of ethics to guide future professional activities in mass media.

Course Expectations

Instructors often tell you everything that you need to know. That is not way we will operate in this course. There will be no lectures in this class. You are as important as the instructor in discussing the legal and ethical issues we will face. This is a seminar class, which means that everyone must make meaningful contributions.

I hope this class will bring to life issues involving communication law and ethics. We should apply legal and ethical considerations to today’s current events.

Attendance:  Past students found this course demanding in time and mental effort. It’s tough, if not impossible, to keep up and understand what’s going on if you miss classes. We will move fast, and there’s a lot of detail to comprehend. Don’t get behind and don’t miss classes unless you must. Attendance is important, but it is your responsibility, not mine. I will take attendance only to meet college record-keeping requirements.

I will follow an ethics-based absence policy. Under this policy, you can miss as many classes as you like. You do not have to clear absences with me in advance. You should find out what assignments will be due because you are still responsible for them. Your absence on the day you are to lead a discussion will result in an automatic F for the assignment. If you must reschedule a presentation, you must provide 24 hours advance notice.

For each missed class, you must explain truthfully why were absent.  This written explanation must be handed in at the next class meeting that you attend. All excuses will be accepted as long as they are presented truthfully. Consequences for lying will be severe. A student caught in a lie about an absence will fail this course.

All assignments will be announced during class or will be posted on my website,

Completion of assignments: All assignments are due at class time on the date announced. Any paper received after class and up to 24 hours later will have one letter grade deducted. Calling with an excuse does not waive this policy. No papers will be accepted beyond 24 hours late. This applies to case briefs, discussion preps, papers and any other written assignments.

Submit all papers as attachments by email to Your completed paper must be written in Microsoft Word.

Failing to complete reading assignments will cost you the ability to take part in class.  The subject matter of this course does not lend itself to conjecture. Such “contributions” waste everyone’s time – and they result in low participation grades.

You cannot “get by” by in this class by taking notes. Outside preparation is a must. If you are unprepared for class, don’t waste your time, the time of your fellow students or my time by showing up. Please prepare to take part in class. Be forewarned: I do not treat gently those who expect to succeed on the work of students who prepared. Learning in this class is an interactive process. You cannot succeed by “memorizing” notes.

Minimum Writing Standards: The minimum standard in this class is correct spelling, good grammar and typed papers. Explaining the law requires precise words and concise writing. You cannot make your point well if you use sloppy grammar, spelling and typos.  All written submissions must be proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes.

I will return your ungraded paper to you at the next class if I find more than five errors of any kind – typos, spelling, grammar, syntax, etc. – on one page. At that point, I will rule that your paper is a day late, resulting in the loss of a letter grade. You have exactly 24 hours to return the paper to me with mechanical errors corrected. The paper earns an automatic “F” if that deadline is not met.

Papers and bibliographies should be in APA style. This is the de facto standard for writing academic papers in the communication field. If you are not familiar with it, you should take the time to become knowledgeable now. It will save you a lot of time later.

Texting, Tweeting, Surfing, Eating and other distractions: Leave them outside the classroom. Multi-tasking is a myth – you can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time and do it well. Scarfing down food while your colleagues have none is rude. Exception: If you want to provide snacks for everyone, including your hungry professor, bring them on.


Your course grade will be calculated as follows:

Item    Maximum Possible Points

Midterm    100

Final Exam    200

Classroom Participation:

Case briefs and assignments/class participation    100

Lead discussions of cases/class participation    100

Paper     250

Group project    250

Total Points     1,000

Your earned point total then translates to the following grade scale:

A 900-1,000

B 800-899

C 700-799

D 600-699

F 599 or less


The midterm involves answering legal and ethical questions by essay. You may choose to answer a few questions from several topics listed. Each exam will reflect our discussions and the conclusions we reach in class. Reading the book(s) will help, but the books alone will not get you through the exams.

Final Exam

The final exam will be comprehensive and involve writing essays on selected questions.

Classroom Participation

Your participation grade consists of three parts:

Case Briefs and other assignments. You will be asked to “brief” law cases early in the semester. Briefing helps to get to the crux of the issues and precedents upon which the courts make their decisions. From time to time, I may ask you to do other short assignments for submission in written form. You should become so familiar with a topic that you can be the class expert. Briefs and assignments will total 100 points of your grade.

Leading discussions. Many times during the semester, you will be asked to lead the discussion on either a legal or ethical case. You should know the details of the case as presented in your textbooks. You also should do more research to bring the class up to date on the status of the issue. You will submit a written brief of the case as well as a one-page account of the status and an abbreviated bibliography.  Your spoken knowledge of the case and the quality of your written submission will determine your grade.

Class participation. You must contribute to the conversation. Failure to do so will cost you points. I will decide whether you earned points by contributing.


Your 10-12-page paper can be written on either of two topics:

(1) The current status of a law or laws. You will discuss background, then bring the reader up to date with the most current rulings.

(2) Discussion of an ethical issue, whether connected to a law or laws, developing your own conclusions based upon a framework for ethical decision making derived from our discussions of cases. You should begin thinking of topics that might interest you now. Note that your topic must be submitted by Sept. 20.

Final draft is due December 4. There is NO flexibility on this date.


As a group, you will research and write a bill based on the “New Voices” movement. “New Voices” is anti-censorship legislation that will grant protections to student journalists. Your research should outline the need for such a law in Nebraska. The finished product should include a detailed rationale for the bill as well as the bill itself. Attach a bibliography to your findings.  Also, find a state legislator to sponsor or co-sponsor the bill’s introduction to the state Legislature. You will develop a list of proponents of the bill and identify the bill’s potential opponents. You should contact potential opponents to learn of their objections and determine how to resolve those issues.

This group project will be due Dec. 8. There is no flexibility with this date.

Disability policy

Students with disabilities substantially limiting a major life activity are eligible for reasonable accommodations in college programs, including this course. Accommodations provide equal opportunity to obtain the same level of achievement while maintaining the standards of excellence of the university. If you have a disability that may interfere with your participation or performance in this course, please meet with me to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs.


Plagiarism, copying someone else’s work, is cheating. It is inconsistent with the stated objectives of this course and will result in an automatic “F” grade. For further information, please refer to Doane College Academic Integrity Policy.

NOTE: All written submissions must be typed. NO HANDWRITTEN items will be accepted.