Censorship is the official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression believed to threaten the political, social or moral order by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body. This legal control is established as some information and ideas are considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people. However, this generally results in the suppression of the public’s freedom in terms of their speech and other forms of public communication. Hence, like many other things that shape a country’s society and culture, censorship is one of them that have the largest impact.
Conditions of Censorship
Censorship occurs under a variety of conditions.
- Protection of the people by governments
- Protection for corporations from consumers
Brief History Of Censorship
Even though the freedoms of speech and expression right is considered as one of the immensely valuable rights across the entire world regardless being the founding precept of many big countries such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia, however the actual use and protection of this right has varied extremely throughout history.
The origin of the term censor brought to light in Rome 443 BC. 'The most famous case of censorship in ancient times is that of Socrates, sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC for his corruption of youth and his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities' (Newth M., Beacon For Freedom Of Expression Website, Censorship: A Global And Historical Perspective, 2010) [CH-1]. Furthermore, Greece was liberal and famous in terms of open-minded approach to literature and lifestyle in general. 'In Rome, as in the ancient Greek communities, the ideal of good governance included shaping the character of the people' (Newth M., Beacon For Freedom Of Expression Website, The Long History Of Censorship, 2010) [CH-1]. Therefore, censorship was considered as an honourable task. In China, the first censorship law was introduced in 300 AD and it was considered a legal instrument for regulating the moral and political life of the population.
In terms of religion, numerous civilizations has always considered the censorship and guardianship of public morality as important, however they become very crucial once a Christian orthodoxy was established in Europe during the early centuries of the first millennium. 'Fears against heresy and subversive literature against the official doctrine were evident as early as A.D. 325, the year of the first Nicene Creed, a document which firmly laid out the beliefs of Catholic Christianity and tolerated no discrepant viewpoints (ibid)' (Random History Website, Censorship and Christianity, 2010) [CH-2]. However, as more books that challenged the viewpoint of Christianity were written, copied, and distributed, censorship became even more strict and the punishments for heresy even more extreme.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Europe, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment, censorship laws were loosened and freedom of expression became hugely celebrated. 'Publication laws that had been decreed in the previous centuries began to be attacked and removed, with Sweden being the first country to officially abolish censorship in 1766' (Random History Website, Loosening The Bonds : The Age Of Enlightenment, 2010) [CH-2].
'From 1917 to the end of the 1980s, Russia and the other socialist republics included within the Soviet Union were governed under a strict rule of censorship enforced by a central censorship office, commonly known as Glavlit (ibid)' (Random History Website, Totalitarian Censorship : Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Apartheid South Africa, 2010) [CH-2]. The goal of this office was to prevent the society from destroying the communist order. Strict censorship were also experienced during the Nazi regime in Germany and the second World War, where thousands of books written by Jewish authors were burnt.
In the twenty-first century, due to rise of the internet, censorship hardly has a hold on society. However, it is still present in every country in one form or another. Some countries that are more conservative in nature still practice strict censorship laws. 'In Iran, the Supreme National Security Council has explicitly banned discussion in the media of any topics that might allow citizens to discover failures and abuses of the government (Baez 2008)' (Random History Website, Modern-Day Censorship, 2010) [CH-2]. In China, Chinese officials limit access to sites that they feel would threaten their constituents. Many countries around the world continue to tighten religious and political censorship in terms of press, movies, video games, television, and literature.
'While the conflict against censorship has definitely come a long way, freedom of expression will probably constantly be held in a delicate balance with the desires of some to control and regulate public morality' (Random History Website, Modern-Day Censorship, 2010) [CH-2].
Rationale Behind Censorship Can Be Divided As
It is the regulation of the obscene and questionable morality materials that offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety. Mainly, adult material (pornography) and vulgar language are considered under this rationale.
Military censorship is the protection of military intelligence, tactics and structure from being used by an enemy as a threat against a country’s sovereignty. It also serves to protect the military from bad publicity and misrepresentation to their cause of action in a war. An example is military censorship of the war in Iraq used as 'an effort by the ruling elite to sanitise the war and to keep the American public in the dark about its real nature' (Spencer N., 2008) [CR-1].
Political censorship is to allow the government to have control over the populace and restrict free expression that might encourage rebellion or cause public disorder within the country. The Singapore government banned Martyn See’s film, Dr Lim Hock Siew, on the basis that it 'posed a security threat to Singapore's interest in the past' (Huang C., 2010) [CR-2] and that it was against public interest.
Religious censorship is the removal of materials that reject a particular religious faith or act as a form of mockery, insult or discrimination against another religion. It is created to prevent religious conflict within a society, where one or more religions force limitations on the less prevalent ones. It is generally applied on the grounds of blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege or impiety - the censored work is considered as obscene, challenging a dogma, or violating a religious taboo. The Vatican banned the makers of the film, Angels and Demons, from entering the Holy See and any church in Rome fearing that the film 'peddles a type of fantasy that damages their common religious beliefs' (Moore M., 2008) [CR-3]. This form of censorship has a long history and is practiced in many societies and by many religions. For instance, the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence fatwa on novelist Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses as it was against Islam, the Prophet and holly Quran.
Corporate censorship is the process by which editors in corporate media outlets intervene to disrupt the publishing of information that portrays their business or business partners in a negative light or intervene to prevent alternate offers from reaching public exposure. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) excluded or provided nonfactual nutritional information of their products that put a lot their consumers' health at risk. 'KFCC is fully aware of our nation's struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising' (Oliva S. M., 2006) [CR-4].
Cultural censorship ‘expands the notion of censorship beyond the acts of removing a photograph from an exhibition or canceling a performance to include a much larger field of social conditions and practices that prevent artists' works of all kinds from reaching audiences or even from being produced’ (Atkins R. and Mintcheva S., 2006) [C-5]. It is the prohibition of books, literature, art, theatre, film and music from a particular culture to prevent its influence on another. An example is a report on the cultural censorship in Iran where the Iranian 'government pressure on and censorship of publishing, music, theater, and film, demonstrating an increase since the disputed 2009 presidential elections' (Arsehsevom, Website) [C-6].
Self-censorship is control over one's own work in any type of medium such as blog, film, press or any other means of expression unaccompanied with any coercion by a party or institution of authority. Certainly, the censorship that runs by the government can never regulate the millions of people. Therefore, the governments generate a context and environment that self-censorship become second nature, which makes censorship a self-policing system. Many people think that in China the state media is censoring content online and offline powerfully under government order. However it is not always true since many of the censorship works are not done by the government officials but self-censored. Film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, journalists, musicians, and other kinds of authors generally practice self-censorship.