Undergraduate course on politics of media around the world
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Politics of the Media (PAIR2023 & PAIR3032)
Lecturer: Justin Murphy
Email: j.murphy@soton.ac.uk
Website: http://jmrphy.net
Twitter: @jmrphy
Office: Building 58, Room 3083
Lecture: Wednesday 9am - 11am
Tutorial: Friday 5pm - 6pm
Contact and feedback hours:
Thursday 1pm - 2pm
Friday 2pm - 3pm
Make an appointment:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society." - Edward Bernays, 1928

"...we called for the creation of a network of independent media, a network of information. We mean a network to resist the power of the lie that sells us this war that we call the Fourth World War. We need this network not only as a tool for our social movements, but for our lives: this is a project of life, of humanity, humanity which has a right to critical and truthful information." - Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, 1997

This module provides a theoretical and empirical overview of the role played by information, communication, and media within the politics of the modern state. Students are introduced to canonical, scholarly, popular, as well as marginal and emerging perspectives on media politics and asked to weigh them against the historical record. Course materials are in a wide variety of media. All of the materials are digital and freely available through links on the module website (http://jmrphy.net/.

Each week will be devoted to a theme. Typically, each week’s materials have been curated to expose the student to the dominant theoretical perspective, a dissident or heterodox perspective, and something empirical (qualitative or quantitative) to help fix ideas. The balance of these materials will be variable and depend on the nature of theme.

Summary of teaching and learning strategies

Focused, directed readings which students complete before each session will provide the core material around which each session is organized. Each session will include a lecture providing a general overview of the main points which will be followed by discussion questions in response to which students will exercise their command of the material. These teaching and learning methods will achieve the aims and learning outcomes of the module by providing a focused, consistent, and supportive environment where students engage with the material in multiple ways (through reading, audible/visual lectures, and through their own speaking).

Aims and objectives

  • Students will gain an independent and critical command of the essential questions in media politics. They will learn to engage with historical texts, theoretical texts, contemporary academic research, as well as cutting-edge contemporary discussions of media politics on the internet. In other words, students will acquire the theoretical tools required of any global citizen who would seek to produce new knowledge in the state-of-the-art of media politics.

  • Students will be able to apply their knowledge to diverse real-world issues, questions, and historical trends. - Students will improve their ability to develop original research questions and write formal academic research papers.

  • Students will develop the oral and verbal skills necessary to communicate their ideas effectively to a wide range of audiences. In particular, through their engagement with contemporary theorists and practitioners of media politics online, students will learn the skills and norms required to become active and networked participants in both theoretical discussions and on-the-ground developments in media politics.

What students will gain from this module

Having successfully completed the module, students will:

  • Have a considered, critical, independent perspective on the role of media in the politics across contemporary states.

  • Be able to speak, write, and disseminate online their independent perspectives on the main questions and issues in the politics of media.

  • Have a basic working knowledge of today’s incipient trends and questions in the politics of media, and their institutional landscape.

  • Have a more reflexive awareness of how the politics of media shape their own perceptions and behaviors.


Students will submit a mid-term essay (maximum of 1500 words) worth 30% of the overall module mark (due at 3:00pm on Monday November 16th). Students will also submit an end-of-term essay (maximum of 3000 words) worth 60% of overall module mark (due at 3:00pm on January 8th). Also, an internet-based political communications practicum, used throughout the semester, will be worth 10% of the overall module mark.

Optional Midterm Essay Prompt: "How has the rise of mass media had an effect on politics? Answer the question with one specific possible effect which is observable in history. Briefly compare two countries over a particular time period (with different experiences regarding the rise of mass media) to test your hypothesis."

Optional Final Essay Prompt: "What is the relationship between the internet and different types of political protest?" Compare two or more countries (different than the countries you chose for the mid-term!)."

Here is some data on media across countries and over time, which you can use for your investigations, although it is not required that you use it. If you use this, cite: Banks, Arthur and Kenneth Wilson. "Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive." 2005. Binghamton, NY.


The student will re-write both essays following the same instructions as found on the module handbook but the word counts will be a maximum of 2000 words for the first essay and 2500 words for the second essay, and with two additional exceptions. As stated in the module handbook, the student is free to design their own essay questions so long as it pertains to the course material and the answer uses material and knowledge gained through the module. However, whereas the handbook states students may pursue the same question in both assessments to improve their first effort, students re-sitting this module must ask and answer different questions for each essay given that they will be doing them at the same time. Also, if a student re-sitting prefers to have a question prompts, the convenor will gladly provide one optional prompt per question to any students re-sitting the module.



Week 1. Introduction


Week 2. Internet practicum
Week 3. The beginnings of the mass media
Week 4. Early social science of the media

Further readings (not required):

Week 5. The rise of an institutionalized mainstream in the social science of the media

Further readings (not required)

Week 6. Do the mass media enforce government transparency and accountability?

Further readings (not required)

Week 7. Or are the mass media propaganda machines?

% - Lecture slides

Week 8. Are the mass media shaped by political institutions?
Week 9. Are the mass media shaped by economic institutions?

Additional readings:

Prior, M. 2013. “Media and Political Polarization.” Annual Review of Political Science.

Week 10. How do the mass media represent different groups?

"Willie Horton" ad, George H.W. Bush, 1988, 30 sec. Willie Horton ad screenshot

"White Hands" ad, Jesse Helms, 1990, 30 sec. White Hands ad screenshot

Racism on TV in Great Britain with Stuart Hall, 1984, 60 min. Racism on TV screenshot

"From Feminism to Patriarchy" in Cultural Criticism and Transformation, with bell hooks, Media Education Foundation, 1997, 6 min.

Racism on TV screenshot

Media Coverage of the 2011 London Riots, a multimedia collection

Additional reading:

Full transcript of the video Cultural Criticism and Transformation featuring bell hooks, Media Education Foundation, 1997

"Jesse Helms, John McCain and the Mark of the White Hands", John Nichols, The Nation, 2008

Week 11. Do the internet and social media lead to revolution against authoritarian regimes?

Statement of Subcomandante Marcos to the NYC Freeing the Media Teach-In, Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN, 1997, 9:25 min.

Marcos screenshot

"Digital Zapatismo" featuring Electronic Disturbance Theatre, from The Hacktivists, 1997, 9:25 min. Dominguez et al screenshot

Week 12. Or do all media just make states stronger and more oppressive?

MacKinnon, Rebecca. 2011. "China's 'Networked Authoritarianism.'" Journal of Democracy 22(2): 32–46.

Hassanpour, N., 2014. Media Disruption and Revolutionary Unrest: Evidence From Mubarak's Quasi-Experiment. Political Communication, 31(1), pp.1–24.

Barberá, P., How Social Media Reduces Mass Political Polarization: Evidence from Germany, Spain, and the U.S. Unpublished Manuscript.

Morozov, E., 2011. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, New York: Public Affairs.

Morozov video screenshot