According to the University of Iowa course catalog for a media law and ethics class from the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, media law and ethics is an area of study and research that focuses on the interaction and relationship between the legal rights and freedoms of the media and the professional responsibilities of media professionals. The emergence of cyberspace for human communication and relationships has major implications for this field.
The University of Iowa course catalog explains that one of the major questions facing those interested in media law and ethics is whether it is ethical, within a particular set of circumstances, for a journalist to exercise her legal privileges. The journalist's legal boundaries are not always in congruity with the boundaries set by her professional or ethical standards. The study of media law and ethics examines the particular legal framework for each branch of the media and includes review of a number of case studies that demonstrate emergent issues at the point of interplay between media law and ethics within each branch of the media. Media law and ethics explores such intellectual disciplines as the philosophy of law and moral or ethical theory. It also covers practical issues within journalism, such as conflict of interest, the confidentiality of sources and media liability for emotional or physical harm.