Writing a dissertation can be very difficult, especially if the student fails to have a concise research topic. Therefore the first step to writing a successful dissertation is to identify the area that the student wants to research and then, after a little reading, form a research question. A concise research question is very important as it ensures that the dissertation is focused and flowing. It is also important that the student chooses a dissertation question that is of interest and brings new insight into the topic. However, the topic should have enough literature for the student to form their argument, because a dissertation is not a PhD and aiming to change the field of research; rather it is to bring another point of view on the existing research and literature. The following article looks at a variety of different hot topics in media, journalism, mass communication and music and then identifies a number of good research questions to help the student to identify an area of interest; as well as how to form a good research question. Picking a topic for your media dissertation can be very difficult, therefore this article suggest topics within the subject areas of journalism, freedom of expression, censorship, music, culture, mass communications, communication and government monitoring and social networks.
2.0 Journalism and Privacy
Journalism and privacy is a very hot topic, especially in the growing world of celebrities. This topic considers how far the journalist can venture into an individual’s private life without breaching the individual’s fundamental right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights) and considers whether there is a different criteria for the private individual and the celebrity. Some topics within journalism and privacy that you could cover within your media dissertation could include:
- Although English law does not have a specific law of privacy, does the common law system overprotect the individual’s private life from journalists?
- The European Convention of Human Rights has introduced the concept of proportionality; Does English legal thought and precedent adopt proportionality towards privacy of the individual and journalism?
- The case of Princess Diana has called into question the ethics of journalism and their invasion into the private life of individuals. Should there be stricter regulations?
- The European Law of Human Rights has called for a specific law of privacy to protect individuals from journalists: Does the UK need to adopt this approach?
- There have been many arguments that the celebrity, by nature of their career, has a reduced right to privacy. A case law approach.
- The economics of journalism are very important. If there is a stricter approach to protecting the individual’s private life from journalists will this reduce readership?
- The legal case of Naomi Campbell in the UK has brought to light that there needs to be responsibility of the celebrity in order to be afforded full privacy rights. Is this the correct approach?
- Judges in the UK and the USA have argued that celebrities who court the media, by their personal actions and economic gains, should not use privacy laws when and as they wish.
- Across Europe there are varying approaches by the courts to protecting privacy. With the European Court of Human Rights and the EU do we need one consistent approach?
- The case of Yahoo v Licra has brought into question the very strict protection of privacy in France. Does the French approach comply with the European Convention of Human rights under the principles of margin of appreciation?
3.0 Journalism and Freedom of Expression
The flipside of protecting privacy is the important role of the media as the public watchdog. This role is protected by the fundamental human right of freedom of expression. This area discusses how far courts should go to protect journalists from court cases, and specific topics for your media dissertation could include:
- Reynolds v Time Newspapers is the key case for recognising the role of press as the public’s watchdog. What are the implications of this case on the courts approach to journalists?
- Sources are essential to journalists. Should the freedom of expression laws be used to protect these sources from cases in breach of confidence?
- Canada and Germany have a very balanced approach to freedom of expression and journalism. Should the UK adopt their approach?
- Is there any excuse for the journalist’s right of freedom of expression to be breached in the interests of a democratic society?
- Some argue that freedom of expression and the free press is the cornerstone of a democratic society. A comparison of citizen attitudes to a free press in the UK and US.
- Journalism relies on the right of freedom of expression; however should this give journalists the license to destroy the lives of individuals? Journalism and responsible reporting.
- The name and shame approach of many newspapers has been questioned as unethical, or does this strategy confirm their watchdog status?
- Watchdog is a very important consumer protection programme. Is this an example of responsible journalism?
- Breach of confidence is an important area of law to protect private data; how far can the journalist’s right to freedom of expression be used as a defence of such a breach?
- Is there a different level of freedom of expression for tabloids and broadsheets? The News of the World versus The Times.
4.0 Media, the Artist and Censorship
Censorship is the government approach to controlling the media for the good of the society. The question is how far can the government go to protect society and is it really justified or merely a form of citizen control? There are two forms of censorship, the first is direct censorship, which is the banning of certain mediums and topics, whist the second is propaganda, where the media and artists feed the government viewpoint. This is a controversial area in which to base your media dissertation.
- Direct censorship is a direct breach of the individual’s human right to a free press. Discuss in relation to UNDHR?
- Journalists have a moral right to provide a balanced approach to the news; however it is argued that the media is highly politicised. The case study of Fox News in the US.
- Iran has a strict censorship programme in relation the role of women. Does this approach protect the integrity of women or is it a form of state control?
- Were the dossiers released by the UK and US government prior to the Iraq war an example of the state using the media for propaganda?
- In a free and democratic society is it right to ban pornography?
- The Spycatcher Case illustrates that the English courts will allow censorship if there is a threat to national security; however should there be a limit to allow for legitimate whistleblowing?
- Art has been an object of censorship over the years to protect the morals of the community. Some would argue the BODYWORX art show is immoral, but has not been censored. How does this compare to the display of foetuses?
- Censorship, through propaganda, one would argue is more subversive in a democratic society, because it is hidden behind so-called legitimate laws. Case Study: The war on terror.
- Political correctness is the new form of censorship in a democracy. Has the liberal view on tolerance caused a breach of the rights that they aim to protect?
- The recent cases on the right of an individual to wear religious symbols have brought into question whether the UK is now censoring the right of religious association. Is this an example of censorship?
5.0 Media across Cultures
Media plays a different role in different cultures; however this is changing in the digital and satellite age. This has brought fears of Americanisation and cultural imperialism, therefore bringing an exciting area for comparative research. Some topics and case studies that you could research for your media dissertation are:
- What is the role of the in the People’s Republic of China? Propaganda, Tibet and the Olympics 2008.
- Media and the war on terror, is it right there should be a move to ban Al-Jazeera by communities in the USA?
- Does the media illustrate that there is degradation of culture and society in the UK? A case study of Big Brother.
- Is the Islamic movement against America and the West taking its images and prejudices from Western media culture?
- In France, culture is becoming more and more important in response to the fear of Americanisation. Is this portrayed in the media?
- How does individualism-collectivism influence the media and the quest for freedom of expression? The case of the People’s Republic of China.
- Can the media be used to breach cultural divides and erase stereotypical images? An argument for responsible journalism.
- Is the growth of media and film making, outside of Hollywood, important to ensure that all cultures are represented? The case of Bollywood.
- In the UK do the British media fail the North/South cultural divide? A comparison of BBC news broadcasting.
- The UK argues that it has a free press; however how does this compare with the different communications from the BBC in the UK and BBC World News? Does the difference indicate subversive censorship?
6.0 Music, culture, the artist and intellectual property
Intellectual property is very important to the artist, especially in the current age of advanced technology where individuals can download pirated music and films. Some would argue that this devalues the worth of the artist; however the question arises on when does using the work of an artist become stealing? This is becoming a more prominent issue within the media industry, and the subject would make for an interesting media dissertation.
- The music and film industry are high stake players in the global economy, how far has this affected international treaties such as TRIPS and WIPO?
- There are legitimate situations in the name of education where breaching an artist’s intellectual property rights is permitted. Discuss.
- Intellectual property law fails cultural groups, their tribal music and art because it fails to understand communitarian ownership and relies on the individual too much. Discuss.
- Copyright law is far more interested in the owner of the copyright, such as record labels, than the artists. Discuss.
- Does economics play too much of a role in the music industry, rather than good music. X Factor a case study?
- It is argued that in the UK there is no real choice in music, because there is a monopoly on record labels in the market. A comparison of the UK and Canada’s music markets.
- Music throughout the centuries has been linked to culture. However, in the UK there seems to be a distinct lack of cultural mainstream music. Does there need to be a promotion of British music culture?
- Do the beliefs and attitudes of consumers in the music market need to change to stop music pirating?
- Artists are changing the music market by allowing consumers to choose their price for music, which means that £0.01 can get a recording. How will this change the face of the music market?
- How does culture affect the music industry? Or are the fears of many countries coming true with Americanisation destroying traditional musical forms? The case study of music censorship in Iran.
7.0 Communication in the Digital age
Communication in the digital age has caused fears that individual privacy will be breached as governments communicate with each other. However, the digital age has brought an opening of doors for cheap and effective communication and education. It also has helped the human rights era to take off by relaying these values to all cultures with limited censorship. Here are some topics within this area that you could research on for your media dissertation.
- Data protection has become a key factor in the digital age of communication. Are the current UK laws sufficient to protect individuals?
- France, Germany and the UK have different approach to Data Protection. Are any sufficient to deal with digital communications?
- Identity fraud has grown with the growth of digital communications. Should service providers be liable for breaches in their data systems?
- Education has been improved in the digital age with faster communication and exchanging of ideas. Has this made traditional teaching methods less important?
- Development and education are intrinsically linked. Has digital communication aided development by increasing the access to education?
- Canada’s Athabasca University is a pioneer in distance education. How important is digital communication to its success?
- The digital age brings communication to remote areas at a cheap price. How has the use of the Internet in local economies kick-started sustainable development? A comparison of rural South Africa and rural India.
- Digital communication has been an important tool for human rights campaigners. A case study of Amnesty International’s email petitions.
- Governments try to censor information to the public as a form of control. How has the Internet brought democratic change?
- In current years the change in Iran’s attitude towards women has slowly changed. It has been argued this has been influenced by the public’s access to information from outside the country. Discuss.
8.0 Communication and Government Monitoring
The growth of mass communication and the technology to enable this communication has brought many benefits. However, there are some significant problems because it has enabled governments to access individual’s private communications with greater ease. This includes ISP addresses asking for personal information on access and Internet providers allowing government access. Does this mean that although mass communication has benefits it also has significant problems? An important issue to many would mean any of the following topics could create a useful and well-read media dissertation.
- Is it ethical for Internet providers to allow government agencies to access private, individual, personal communications in the interests of justice?
- How does the UK government justify using mass communication interceptors, such as ISP address recording, to access private individual’s personal information?
- What are the implications of governments using the private individual’s access of mass communication as reason to investigate their personal communications?
- How are the boundaries blurring between mass and personal communication with the advent of blogs and social networking sites?
- Privacy is a key factor to limit journalists accessing personal information. How can the government justify breaching the same rights of an individual’s personal information?
9.0 Communication and social networks
Social networks, such as Facebook, are changing the way that many people use the Internet, and are changing the face of the distinction of private and mass communication. If the area of communication and social networks interests you, you could write about any of the following topics for your media dissertation.
- Social networks are the new form of mass communication, with blogs and ideas being exchanged; however they are also NOT FINISHED?
- What are the effects of social networking sites on the economics of mass communication?
- Can social networking sites be used as a form of mass communication to trigger sustainable development and trading outside the ambits of corporations, such as eBay.
- Do social networks play an important role in the mass communication, advertising and the economic growth of trading over the Internet?
- Are social networks more persuasive than traditional forms of communication, especially in regards to changing attitudes of individuals towards key debates?
- Can we use social networks and blogs as a platform of mass communication to change attitudes to consumers and companies? Social networks and consumer boycotting.
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