Censorship is a global phenomenon. Time and again, there have emerged news of something getting banned somewhere in the world for reasons that seem unreasonable to many while a necessity to the rest. In India, specially, censorship exists in mass abundance. Remember the case when Penguin India, on Feb 12, withdrew copies of Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History , after an out-of-court settlement was reached between it and plaintiffs Shiksha Bachao Andolan which objected to sections of Doniger’s book.
I can give you examples from all over the world. During the 1950s, Elvis Presley appeared in one of the famous TV programs only to be shot by the camera till his torso, as his world-famous pelvic movements were deemed vulgar. Again during the 1950s, the Scientific American magazine published an article on thermonuclear fusion which was censored by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. The printed copies of the magazine were found and burnt as it contained classified information. During both World War I and World War II strict military censorship was laid on the freedom of press. A similar kind of censorship was also laid in India during the State of Emergency period in the late 70s. With the introduction of television and Internet, many important developments have taken place in the field of censorship around the world. A number of countries like Syria, Australia, Cuba, UAE, Yemen, Pakistan and Burma have censored the Internet. China has imposed stringent censorship regulations. A military censor was also laid on the freedom of press and Internet in Egypt lately. WikiLeaks, the sensational international whistle blowing website was closed down several times under the pretext of censorship. Satellite phones, Internet and freedom of press were also censored in Libya during Gaddafi’s rule.
While each country and each culture censors the media in one way or the other, the amount of censorship or the cut-off level which defines what to show and what not, differs. There are also different types of censorship. One of the most common criteria behind censorship is the age limits for viewing different media. Sometimes the censorship can be a blanket ban on a certain taboo topics and the definition of a taboo topic would be defined according to the governing authority in the country. So, while the levels of media censorship exist, people are still calling for absolute removal of all types of censorship. Then again, there are proponents who think that its use creates a balance in what ought to be said and written, which again, the opponents criticize on the basis of the threat it poses to the right of speech.
Let us discuss this topic in some more detail:
POINTS IN FAVOUR:
Media influence on society: As a community, we are heavily influenced by the media and other sources of information. However, we tend to overlook the fact that there are not only much bias but also skewed perceptions of events and reports in the news today. The media does a poor job portraying things as they really are in order to follow a sort of convention and to keep their show on air or their papers in stores. As a result, most of the time we are being fed information that may not be entirely true and sometimes entirely baseless. The media has the ability to manipulate its viewers in ways that are often unseen. That being said, it is difficult to give full trust to any news or report on an event, let alone base beliefs off of something that was skewed so much that it became a whole different story or subject in itself. Driven by money, greed and popularity, most media outlets are fighting to report what they believe we want to hear, not what we really should hear-the TRUTH.
Media to be censored for children: The impressionable young minds can’t differentiate between real and make believe. The amount of violence shown affects the perception of young children. Emphasis needs to be made on the fact that killing people is illegal and immoral. We don’t want our children thinking that it is cool to be all heartless and go on picking off people on the street. The vivid portrayal of violence as a means of justice gives them a false sense of right and wrong. Hence the amount of violence the media broadcasts ought to be censored at least for the kids. Also the casual approach towards the topics of sex and pornography is giving very wrong ideas to the young minds. Since the Indian Education system does not have a strong approach toward sex education, the open platform of media has become their information ground. Open advertisement of smoking and alcohol also needs to be curbed. What they see, they learn .There needs to be an age restriction strictly employed and the open media grounds like the news channels and news papers must restrict their portrayal of such topics keeping in mind the age of the general audience.
Political agendas: Though it is true that media is responsible for spreading information about current events all around the world, the need of the hour is balance of information given. Certain times violent speeches and derogatory comments given by people towards a particular race and religion. While the act in itself can be condemned, there is no need of repeated air-time given to the incident. This can only incite the masses against the said person or the organization he/she is associated with. Such media tactics are often used by political parties for selfish means while ignoring the greater good of the society. This can only bring unrest among the masses and disrupt the peace in the society. Some people may try to spread nonsensical propaganda through unsuspecting media. Censorship will prevent the public display of disrespect to any particular individual or community and promote political correctness.
Security of secrets: Ignorance is bliss, they say and it is in the best interest of a country and its people that the plans of our armies are kept under wraps. Sometimes we need to blindly trust them. The detailed discussion and scrutiny of every minute detail by the media can sometimes prove dangerous as the information relayed to the general public can be as easily gathered by the wrong group of people. During an emergency like a terrorist attack, it helps in controlling panic and rumors throughout the nation. This was observed in 2008 when terrorists attacked The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Mandating censorship on defense related and sensitive subjects is necessary.
Curbing the spread of wrong information: Everybody has an opinion and wants to be heard. Whether it is a hard fact or just their mere belief is a secondary matter. Thanks to the media, you now know where and when and with whom a celebrity vacations, whether or not you want to know that. In the effort of claiming their right to freedom of speech, media has crossed all boundaries of right to privacy of people. The truth of the matter takes a back seat and even false information spreads like wildfire. Right from matters of national importance to a celebrity’s divorce settlements, all details are publicly judged upon and sides taken. It has reached an extent where you can not truly know if something that you read in a newspaper or hear on a news channel is in fact true. Media is not an impartial spectator anymore, rather it has become a weapon, the more powerful can use to its advantage. It has reached a juncture where we need to verify that what is printed and circulated is a) actually newsworthy, b) as accurate as possible at the time and c) not malicious.
Propagating Ignorance: Media is a major source of information. Everything that we know about anything in the world today is all thanks to news channels, news papers, internet and other forms of media. In a country like ours, political parties will first suppress rightful information in the name of censorship.
Let’s say that a foreign news channel is running an unbiased documentary on the leadership of our country, the governing bodies of our country cannot do much about what that person or channel is saying, except stop the people of our country from tuning into such shows. Hence here, censorship is used to keep the ignorant, ignorant. So who gets to be the judge of what is appropriate on a social level and what is not? Is it a handful of people sitting in a room and declaring what is and what isn’t right according to their ideologies? In the name of moral values, must we keep the society from progressing by claiming certain ideas to be against our “culture”. Must we cling to age old norms in the name of culture and censor what doesn’t please Indian values? How can a society and a country progress on an international level if we don’t inculcate newer trends and censor everything that doesn’t agree with “Indian culture”.
Shaping the young minds: Times are changing. The newer generation is information hungry. A blanket ban on topics like sex in the media will only generate their curiosity about it. And censorship of media will only mean that they look into the absolutely wrong places for information. Rather these topics should be discussed in a healthy manner so that the taboo tag is lifted off them. Instead of being completely censored, Sex education and awareness of STDs can be dealt with maturity .If sex-related topics are completely censored it becomes difficult to teach children and teenagers about the dangers of STDs. There are rating systems and parental advisory stickers made to prevent negative influence. Why censor something, when classification serves the purpose really well.
Freedom of speech: What’s the point of your right to speak if there is no one to listen to what you are speaking? Doesn’t the very concept of censorship clash with the idea of democracy? If we are going to cover the ears of our listeners, then what is the difference between democracy and dictatorship? If the content in the media is manipulated by some people with vested interests, then the whole point of democracy and freedom of thought goes out of the window anyway. And, how difficult do you think it is to get an uncensored version of anything these days? By censoring it, you are promoting it even more.
Modified Truth: Censoring of information may lead to a wrong image perceived by the public. It gives rise to and hides abuse of human rights. If the news coming from a war zone does not show the true nature of the damage inflicted, how can a person be aware of the real situation of the war? If to say that the real death toll and associated imagery should be censored, it will be equivalent to denying even the presence of war. Death is real and people affected in a war zone pay for it with their lives and we owe it to them to know their real stories. Don’t censor the media; rather tackle the issues leading to a situation that might need to be censored. Hiding the complete picture doesn’t erase its presence, merely gives a false perception. The recent ban on social media by the Assad regime in Syria makes a very apt example of the same.
Hinders Creativity: There can be different standards of morals among different societies quite different from the ones imposed by the censorship. Put in simple words, censorship hinders creativity. Censorship in books plays and movies may compromise their entertainment value. It’s as if to say that you can’t voice your thoughts freely in any medium .It may be used to block legitimate criticism. It’s limiting artists from truly expressing themselves. Isn’t that what ART is all about?
This is not a black and white topic. Every argument given for the implementation of a strict media censorship can as easily be used in a point against it. You can probably see that this debate is largely a matter of degree. The questions that the censor boards need to ask themselves are what is the rationale behind the censorship? And are we censoring the media as per that rationale? Is the media being allowed to display what it ought to display? Are they showing things that people want to or need to know about? Censorship is just like a double-edged sword. An absence of censorship might not be a perfect notion, as it can cause chaos. But it also doesn’t mean that the government uses it for its own personal gain by suppressing dissent. Ours is a democratic nation, yet has more censorship than most nations. That’s the irony.
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