Fall 2019 - CMNS 437 E100

Media Democratization: From Critique to Transformation (4)

Class Number: 10426

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 5:30 PM – 9:20 PM
    HCC 1505, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    75 units, including CMNS 235, 240 or 331.



An advanced seminar on the normative debates, social bases, and strategic potential for media democratization in the context of economically developed liberal democracies like Canada and the United States. This course complements other courses which critically examine state communication policies and the political economy and allegedly ideological character of corporate media. Here, we focus on campaigns and movements in civil society to define and build alternative communicative forms based on equality, democratic participation and/or human rights. Students with credit for CMNS 428 or 487 under the same title may not take this course for further credit.



Ours is a world in crisis. Too often, the response of corporate and state media to the current threats of climate chaos, terror war, and fascistic ‘populism’, has been inadequate, or even complicit.  What kind of media structures, policies and practices do we need to revitalize democracy? Or, indeed, to survive?     

This course starts where many others end – the need for a democratic renewal of the media system in economically developed liberal-democracies like Canada, the US, and Britain – with some attention to struggles elsewhere. The course assumes some background in critiques of dominant state and corporate media, and focuses mainly on popular efforts and movements to define and build positive alternatives. Students are being asked to consider, and engage in, normative reasoning. As a starting point, the course requires no particular political perspective other than a value commitment to democracy, and a willingness to seriously (and critically) consider “progressive” critiques of, and alternatives to, dominant media.

Course Themes Include:

• Media and democracy.  How should we understand the relationship between capitalism, democracy and media?  What roles should the media play in a democracy?  In what ways, according to progressive critics, do the corporate media fall short of realizing communication rights?  What alternative structures and paradigms are being proposed?

• Historically, what political and social processes and groups have favoured or hindered media democratization?  What strategic routes, and what forms of struggle, have popular groups adopted in their efforts to win communicative space?

• What social contradictions – from class domination and racial inequality to environmental injustice – have given rise to ‘rebellious communication’?  What struggles and resources could be a potential “springboard” for further media democratization?

• What can we learn from the practice of independent, radical media? How can media better respond to crises of democracy and environment?

• Is there a coherent movement for media democratization, and what might be the most fruitful strategies for its growth?


  • Participation 20%
  • Reading Journal 20%
  • Paper or Creative Project Proposal 20%
  • Final Paper or Creative Project 40%
  • *Grading is subject to revision with notice


A minimum CMNS CGPA of 2.25 and overall CGPA of 2.00, and approval as a communication student is required for entry into most communication upper division courses.

The school expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades.  In addition, the School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline.  [Note: as of May 1, 2009 the previous T10 series of policies covering Intellectual Honesty (T10.02), and Academic Discipline (T10.03) have been replaced with the new S10 series of policies.]



Hackett, R.A., & W.K. Carroll.  (2006).  Remaking Media: The Struggle to Democratize Public Communication.  London: Routledge. (ISBN: 978-0415394697). *Available as an e-book through the SFU library or for purchase at the SFU Bookstore.
ISBN: 978-0415394697

McChesney, R.W.  (2014).  Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy.  New York: The New Press.  (ISBN: 978-1620970317). *Available as an e-book through the SFU library or for purchase at the SFU Bookstore.
ISBN: 978-1620970317

CMNS 437 Custom Courseware Package.  *Available for purchase at the SFU Bookstore.

CCPA Monitor (July 2016), special issue on the media. [Available as a free download at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/monitor-julyaugust-2016]

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html