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The media provide our access to news and information. The citizens of a nation need to stay informed and thus come to trust the media that brings the news and information they desire without fear that it is a lie, an agency of an evil foreign power or in any other way not the closest to the truth possible. Censoring the media is tantamount to mind control of the citizenry. This issue is everyone’s problem.
Canada is in many ways a free country, particularly by world standards.
It is also, however, a nation that has always tolerated a remarkable amount of censorship, and spawned dismaying numbers of self-appointed guardians of taste and morality.
Since governments almost always have an interest in controlling the free flow of information, official censorship is something that must be constantly guarded against. In our society, however, large corporations are a more common source of censorship than governments: Media outlets killing stories because they undermine corporate interests, advertisers using their financial clout to squelch negative reports; powerful businesses using the threat of expensive lawsuits to discourage legitimate investigations.
The most frequent form of censorship is self-censorship: Journalists deciding not to pursue certain stories that they know will be unpopular with the boss.
In contrast to state censorship, which is usually easy to recognize, self-censorship by journalists tends to be obscured. It is particularly murky and insidious in the emerging media environment, with routine pressures to defer to employers that have massive industry clout and global reach.
In some parts of the world, the media are controlled by the government. This means that no one can broadcast or publish anything that the government considers to be immoral or harmful, or that threatens the country’s stability (i.e., the government’s own power base). This is what we usually think of when we hear the word censorship. Democratic countries, on the other hand, take pride in upholding the principle of freedom of speech. People are free to say and write whatever they wish, with some carefully defined exceptions. But there is another controlling power at work in a market economy the power of money. For example, in North America most mainstream publications depend on two income sources: subscriptions and advertisers. Both influence decisions about content. Readers must find the content relevant, interesting, tasteful, and entertaining or they will drop their subscription. Advertisers will cancel their accounts if they consider the content to undermine or challenge their message about the product they sell. For instance, the tobacco industry has enormous advertising power in the U.S., with annual expenditures of over $5 billion (or $75 for every adult smoker). Since cigarette advertising was banned on radio and TV in 1970, most of this money has been spent on expensive ads in the print media.
Some will argue that censorship is unconstitutional. In the first Amendment to the American Constitution, all people are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech. In the case of, for example, censoring of albums and V-chip technology, it does not technically violate the Constitution, it does violate the spirit of the Constitution. The First Amendment in the American Constitution suggests that all people also have the right to have their opinions heard in their original form. It does not say anything about whether or not a person has the right to censor that which offends them, as many attempts at censorship are. If these violations of Constitutional rights continue, dire consequences could result.
The censorship of media is helping to sterilize music, television, and books. If this trend continues, we will soon be seeing only one kind of entertainment, light, romantic, insubstantial. All of the daring that has driven all of the great human artistic achievements through history will be lost as promising young artists are squashed by efforts to censor their work. However, today’s parents are too busy to do anything more than plop their children in front of a TV set or stereo and leave the parenting to the media. Education is the key to “protecting” children, and those who dont know any better. Some people grew up watching violent movies and reading Stephen King novels, and they have never done anything extremely violent in their lives.
At first the use of filtering/blocking software may seem like a simple, reasonable solution, free from any threat to the freedom of expression of adults. Once one examines this proposal more thoroughly, serious problems arise when filtering/blocking software providers select the sites and program the categories to be blocked, since this constitutes permitting a private company to make censorial decisions for the public. The frequently proposed alternative solution is to have the filtering/blocking software block sites on the basis of self-classification — what the industry has dubbed self-labeling — by each individual who operates a web site, bulletin board.
As citizens in a nation, and inhabitants of a global megalopolis, there are questions which the control of content on the Internet forces us to confront regarding the issue of how far we are willing to have freedom of expression and communication in an adult world governed by a standard designed to protect the possible, but apparently indemonstrable harm that might be done to children or other adults: do we really wish to control freedom of access of intelligent teenagers, much less some adults who have access only to public, filtered terminals, from participating in small discussions between a group of interested adult individuals; do we condone restricting in any way access to the online equivalent of libraries, museums, universities, and agencies disseminating news, do we wish to inhibit a multitude of other useful services becoming available on the Internet, to such a standard? That’s why the Internet makes a lot of people very nervous. Because it can’t be effectively, and efficiently, controlled. It is wrong to assume that the Internet has no rules, and is friendly to the exchange of objectionable materials. In fact the Internet is a virtual community’ of users with a distinct culture incorporating diverse views but finding consensus in opposition to censorship and access control. There is also strong opposition to the exploitation of children; in fact, many Internet users have cooperated in attempts to identify those who create and distribute child pornography.
But, consider these possible analogies to the Internet:
— The Internet is a vast mail system, like a post office. Would you favor a law that required postal authorities to open each piece of mail and evaluate its acceptability?
— The Internet is a huge library system. Would you favor a law that would restrict information a library can provide?
— The Internet is a collection of virtual communities. Would you favor a law that required routine searches of your community?
I do, however, believe in such “censorship” techniques as movie ratings and album advisory labels. These, in actuality, are not censorship, but actually help the artist to exercise creative freedom. These warnings help parents to decide if a work is appropriate for them or for their children. Thus, more is acceptable artistically. For example, an album such as rapper Ludacris would never have been able to be released before the advent of the warning label. So, in that sense, warning techniques help to protect artists’ freedoms, as well as the innocence of children.
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