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Freedom, Censorship and Subversion

  • Module code: MD7003
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: 7
  • Credits: 30
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None


This one semester module is an elective primarily offered to students taking an MA in Media & Communication or an MA in Film but it is also relevant to those taking postgraduate degrees in politics, political communication, human rights and conflict. It deals with some of the most hotly debated issues in different societies about how to balance core freedoms (expression, press and protest) with the state protecting what and who may be potentially harmed by certain forms of expression through censorship.  Even then these remain open debates as new forms of subversion and resistance emerge with new technologies or through the use of the body to express protest. The module explores these at two levels. The first outlines different approaches to and principles governing censorship depending on whether expression is through images; words, ideas and beliefs; information; and action. These are then explored in more depth in sessions that draw on staff specialisms here, for instance, in film, news, information-privacy, protest movements, etc.


  • To provide students with a breadth and depth of critical knowledge and understanding of the dynamic struggles and interactions between freedom of expression, censorship and subversion.
  • To develop the ability to critically evaluate different theories used to explore the principles of what to censor, how and why.  
  • To develop the ability to apply theoretical arguments and principles of freedom, censorship or subversion to actual case studies.
  • To enable students to appropriately evaluate primary sources as a basis for independent research into a particular case of freedom, censorship or subversion.

Learning outcomes

  • Critically evaluate different theoretical positions in a debate on whether freedom, censorship or subversion should take precedence in a particular case
  • Select and use appropriate primary sources to construct a fully-supported analysis of an argument for or against censorship of a particular image, discourse or action.
  • Write a succinct, coherently argued research report in which you make the case for freedom, censorship or subversion of a particular 'text' in a particular context.

Curriculum content

  • Part 1: Introduction to freedom, censorship and subversion: premises, principles and debates. 
  • Part 2: Lecture-tutorial: The power and sensitivities of the image in a visual age. Specialist lecture-workshop sessions* could include when or whether controversial images in films should be censored; the use of comics or cartoons to subvert other forms of censorship; issues surrounding violent videogames; or single photographs and invasions of privacy.
  • Part 3: Lecture-tutorial: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.' (ideas, beliefs and discourses). Specialist lecture-workshop sessions could include burning of books; libel and injunctions against newspapers; the suppression of religious or political discourses in film; debates about incitement to religious or racial hatred.
  • Part 4: Lecture-tutorial: 'Information is power'. Specialist lecture-workshop sessions could include documentaries, information-privacy in the internet age, national security - from D-notices to Wikileaks.
  • Part 5: Lecture-tutorial: 'Actions speak louder than words'. Specialist lecture-workshop sessions could focus on the use of the body as a medium of communication when all others go unheard or are censored; examples could include protest sit-ins, hunger strikes, self-immolation or flag burning.

Teaching and learning strategy

The strategy adopted here reflects a mix of teaching and independent learning, theory and applied theory. It also enables students to explore their particular interests more in-depth.

  • The overview sessions comprise a three-hour session half of which will be devoted to theoretical content and half to a tutorial on applied work ie report writing, sourcing materials and evaluating arguments.
  • The specialist sessions will comprise a 2 hour lecture-tutorial + 1 hour workshop, filming, etc.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive UNISTATS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching 11 x 3 hour lecture-tutorial/workshop 33
Guided independent study 267
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

Formative assessment [1] a class presentation on the position paper in which informal, oral feedback will be provided [2] a draft of the report to be handed in during the semester and for which written feedback will be provided

Summative assessment [1]:  a 2000-word position paper/essay on a theoretical debate (40%)

Summative assessment [2]: a 3000-word research report on what, how and whether a particular text should be censored or whether the existing policy is effective (60%)

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
Critical evaluation of competing position in a theoretical debate on whether freedom, censorship or subversion should take precedence in a particular case Position paper/essay
Selection and use of appropriate primary sources in support of an argument for or against censorship of a particular image, discourse or action. Research report
A succinct, coherently argued research report which makes the case for freedom, censorship or subversion of a particular 'text' in a particular context. Research report

Elements of Assessment

Description of Assessment Definitive UNISTATS Categories Percentage
Coursework 2000 word position paper/essay 40%
Coursework 3000 word research report 60%
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.

Bibliography core texts

Barendt, E. (2005) Freedom of Speech. Oxford: University of Oxford Press.

Harwood-Millgrave, A and Livingstone, S. (2009) Harm and Offence in Media Content: A Review of the Evidence London: Intellect Books.

Bernstein, M. (ed) (2000) Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Hollywood Era.  London: The Athlone Press.

Kendon, A. (2004) Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bibliography recommended reading

In addition to reading academic texts students are strongly encouraged to monitor some of the key debates taking place in their own country and globally about freedom, censorship and subversion. Useful sites include:

  • Xindex: This is the website of Index on Censorship which monitors restrictions of freedom around the world and issues useful policy briefs that support their campaigns against restrictions.
  • Reporters without Borders: This is a non-profit organisation which was originally set up to monitor attempts to censor the press around the world but has since expanded its remit to include internet censorship and new media.
  • The Guardian Online: This has been developed by the British newspaper to report on censorship debates. It has four categories: Censorship in the UK; the remaining three - film, internet and media - have a global remit.

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