Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit





Unit rationale, description and aim

Ethics and Law in the Digital World is an advanced unit in a minor sequence in Communication in the Bachelor of Arts. Professionals operating in the media and communications sector need a knowledge of the legal and ethical frameworks that surround work in their industry.

This unit introduces students to the legal framework within which the media and other online publishers work in Australia. Students will learn how to work within the law when researching, writing and publishing content in the digital and mainstream media. The unit also examines the ethical issues pertaining to publishing in the digital and mainstream media, encouraging students to reflect explicitly on how the media serves both human dignity and the common good. Using an applied case-based approach, this subject helps students gain ethical awareness, develop relevant reasoning skills, and empower them to act ethically in personal and professional contexts.

The aim of this unit is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to create legally and ethically sound publications in a range of communication styles.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Define the ethical considerations required for researching and publishing digital content (GA1, GA2, GA5, GA8) 

LO2 - Frame the ethical considerations required for dealing with cultural, gender and disability groups, and victims of crime and trauma (GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA9) 

LO3 - Analyse content in terms of ethical choices and the contemporary Australian legal framework surrounding media law (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9). 

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:  

  • an introduction to ethical decision-making in content development 
  • cooperation in publication: communities and individuals 
  • representation of gender and minority groups 
  • free speech 
  • the nature of truth-telling 
  • code of ethics  
  • ethical best practice 
  • morality in editing 
  • privacy and the public interest defamation laws 
  • copyright laws  
  • publication laws. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The unit is offered in fully online mode. This unit engages students in active learning activities, such as reading, writing, discussion and problem-solving to promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content. Students participate in diverse learning activities where they encounter ideas, theories and examples of practice related to the ethical and legal implications of material that they publish in the digital world. The learning activities allow students to gradually develop competencies arising from the learning outcomes of the unit. Students will undertake practical learning and assessments that focus on real-world applications of the skills developed in this unit. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment for the unit is designed to provide students with a range of opportunities to achieve the learning outcomes. The schedule provides scaffolded learning with opportunities for students to monitor their own progress, practice their skills and receive feedback. 

The Research Task will allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the legal framework under which the digital world operates, while the Online Forum will allow students to discuss and evaluate the ethical issues that arise when publishing material via old or new media.  


The final assessment will require students to analyse one or more case studies. Students will apply their knowledge of the legal framework under which publishers and content providers work to solve realistic, complex, and contextually rich situations that might involve a dilemma, conflict, or problem. The task may include multiple case studies and be delivered as central examination, school-based examination, take-home examination, in-class assessment or other equivalent tasks. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Research Task 

(Law in the Digital World)The purpose of this assessment is to define and frame legal considerations in the digital domain. 



GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9 

Online Forum (ethical issue)  

The purpose of the online forum is to develop skills in effective communication and demonstrate an understanding of ethical considerations pertaining to online publication.


LO1, LO2 

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9 

Case Study Analysis  

The purpose of this assignment is to analyse a body of writing to reveal the ethical and legal issues that exist in the contemporary media. 

The task may include multiple case studies and be delivered as a central examination, school-based examination, take-home examination, in-class assessment or other equivalent tasks. 


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9 

Representative texts and references

Ess, C., & Polity Press. (2015). Digital media ethics. Cambridge: Polity.  

Foreman, G. (2016). The ethical journalist: Making responsible decisions in the digital age. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.  

Little, J. (2013). Journalism ethics and law: Stories of media practice. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 

Muller, D. (2014). Journalism ethics for the digital age. Melbourne: Scribe. 

Patching, R., & Hirst, M. (2014). Journalism ethics: Arguments and cases for the twenty-first century. London: Routledge.  

Pearson, M. and Polden, M. (2015). The journalist's guide to media law (5th ed.). Sydney: Allen and Unwin. 

Vanacker, B., & Heider, D. (2016). Ethics for a digital age. New York, Peter Lang. 

Ward, S. J. A. (2015). The invention of journalism ethics: The path to objectivity and beyond. Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press. 

Zion, L. & Craig, D. (2015). Ethics for digital journalists: Emerging best practices. New York: Routledge.  

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