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Media Power, State Power, and the Law: Who Watches the Watchmen?


Admission requirements

This course is an Honours Class and therefore in principle only available to students of the Honours College. There are a few places available for regular students.


Authorities that control the media can influence public opinion. News media, opinion-makers themselves, may act as watchdogs. In authoritarian regimes, dictators silence their critics and depict them as dangerous criminals. Television will show popular amusement to keep people quiet, whereas news programs suggest that the government is in good hands. In democracies, too, politicians have to come to terms with media power. Some of the questions we shall discuss in this course, are: How should the law prevent the media from being used for government propaganda? What means do citizens have to obtain redress when media abuse their power?

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • have general knowledge of basic theories on media power and media duties

  • understand the methodological difficulties that are inherent in interdisciplinary research

  • be able to analyse a fundamental question of media policy, using insights from journalism, political science and the law

  • be able to carry out interdisciplinary research in a small group of fellow students

  • be able to write a short essay on media policy and present this towards an audience of academics.


The 8 seminars will take place on Tuesday evenings (January 31; February 7, 14, 21, 28; March 7, 14, 21) from 17.45 to 21.30 hrs.
The concluding workshop will take place on 23 May 2017.


KOG-building, Faculty of Law, Steenschuur Leiden


Session 1 (Seminar 31 January 2017).
Teachers: Wouter Hins et al.
Subjects: The concept of the media. Which role do the media play in a democracy? History of the printed press, broadcasting and internet. Present day problems.

Sessions 2 and 3 (Seminar 7 and 14 February 2017).
Teachers: Jaap de Jong and Peter Burger
Subjects: Rhetoric and and propaganda, public opinion, ethics of journalism, trust in news media

Sessions 4 and 5 (Seminar 21 and 28 February 2017).
Teachers: Rebecca Tromble and N.N.
Subjects: Self-interest of governments, parliamentarians, media-owners and journalists. Agenda-setting. Osmosis and interdependence.

Sessions 6 and 7 (Seminar 7 and 14 March 2017).
Teachers: Jan Oster and Wouter Hins
Subjects: Media freedom, protection of fundamental rights against the media, the right to know, pluralism as a constitutional value.

Session 8 (Seminar 21 March 2017)
Teachers: all
Teams will present the outlines of their papers. The papers must be written in English. Preparation of the workshop with external guests.

Concluding workshop (Workshop 23 May 2017)
Presentation and discussion of the papers that the students have written in the past weeks

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars: 8 seminars of 3.5 hours = 28 hours

  • Workshop: 1 workshop of 4hours = 4 hours

  • Literature reading & practical work: 7 hours p/week = 56 hours

  • Assignments & final essay: 52 hours

Assessment method

During the course, students must give one individual presentation, e.g. in a moot court case. After 21 March 2017, they have to write a text of 1500 words. This text is a paragraph in a collective research paper, written by (preferably) four students. In order to enhance cohesion between the individual paragraphs, it is important that the four researchers write an introduction (max. 1500 words) and a conclusion (max. 1500 words) together. The papers will be presented and defended in the workshop of 23 May 2017.

The final mark for each student will be determined for

  • 25% by the quality of the participation in the seminars and the individual presentation.

  • 50% by the individual efforts for the research paper, in particular the quality of the student’s own paragraph.

  • 25% by the collective efforts for the research paper, in particular the quality of the introduction and conclusion.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

The required literature will be available on Blackboard.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday November 7th until Sunday November 20th through the Honours Academy, via this link


Prof. dr. Wouter Hins


It is important that students are present for the concluding workshop of 23 May 2017. The workshop will also be attended by external academics with expertise in the field of journalism, political science and/or law.