In today’s digital age, information has become vastly accessible to everyone through different forms of media which usually include television, newspaper, film, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). The inexorable flow of information leads to the establishment of government censorship. Recently the subject of media censorship has been the source of controversial debate. It has been argued that government censorship deprives people of having the freedom of speech and the right to self-expression, and is therefore unjustified. However, It is the powerful effects of media that make it all the more important for governing bodies to have control in order to protect the interests of the nation, stem dissent, and maintain societal order. Hence, by outlining the different viewpoints this essay will demonstrate that governmental censorship is justifiable to secure political and societal stability.
Critics argue that censorship is not necessary because it is being carried out at the expense of political, intellectual, and artistic freedoms. They argue that censorship undermines the rights of individuals to the freedom of speech and expression, something that is highly valued by many in today’s world (Newth 2010 cited in Irum & Laila 2015, p. 21). Kulkarni (2018) also proposes that censorship compromises the entertainment and artistic intent and value, disallowing people to express themselves. This can be shown in two aspects, freedom of speech and artistic freedom. Firstly, they argue that people do not wholly have the right to speak their thoughts, because the government is afraid that the information may influence their regime and the power of the country. In 2009, Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo advocated democratic reforms and free speech, which saw him imprisoned for eleven years (Xu & Albert 2014, p. 243). This is because the government feared that inflammatory speech may incite people against it. Detractors argue that citizens should be free to criticize governmental authorities and that the right to free expression is a foundation in any liberal democracy (Safayeni, Gonsalves 2017). It is imperative for societies to benefit from a multiplicity of viewpoints that can find fertile sustenance through various media of communication (Safayeni, Gonsalves 2017). Secondly, they contend that classifying one’s own work (blog, book(s), film(s), or other means of expression), out of fear or deference to the sensibilities of others without an authority directly pressures one to do so. People are entitled to the freedom of access to content and creative space for self-expression. The romantic kiss in some films is banned in Iran as Iranian filmmakers follow Islamic codes to avoid political and religious sensitivities (Tofighian 2014). This abuse of censorship to censor valid criticism or stem transmission of ideas to maintain the national status quo is bound to create a close-minded, politically inactive society that enables the government to act with little opposition. In 2017, a group of female Iranian students demanded Iranian actress Leila Hatami to be sentenced to one to ten years imprisonment and flogging as she kissed a non-Muslim man (Markay 2017). Thus, further proving that censorship risks creating a closed society.
However, there are many flaws in this argument. Firstly, it underestimates the complexity of the world. As society becomes more complex, people’s opinions become more diversified and there is a larger extent of institutionalization and integration of various communities. Therefore, censorship is fundamental in ensuring that social discourse does not lead to conflicts. Secondly, it overlooks people’s acceptance of modern art where there are no boundaries. For example, Robert Michael Mapplethorpe, an American photographer, shot celebrity photographs that dealt with racial and sexual issues. His oeuvre which includes a portfolio that documented male homosexual life (Fitzpatrick, Rosenthal & Chapman 2002, p.2), is quite beyond some people’s apprehension for sexuality and remains subversive to those even until now. This suggests that some extent of censorship is important to preserve a more age-friendly environment for modern arts since not everyone has the same extent of receptiveness towards all kinds of modern arts. Thirdly, it overestimates mankind’s capability, as it assumes that everyone has the ability to make informed decisions, especially for teenagers and children. The violent crime scenes and “extreme pornography” in movies or television programs may have harmful effects on children and teenagers (Cowen 2016). They may develop a wrong perception of violence and sexuality due to the misleading information, which is likely to result in forming inappropriate sexual behavior and even sexual crimes. This suggests that media censorship is crucial in protecting people who have yet to develop a mature mindset to b to make informed decisions on their own. Ultimately, it assumes that all religions and cultures are the same and that everyone must have the same extent of censorship. This overlooks some different cultures which are feudalistic and conservative, such as Islamic countries. In these countries, censorship of pornographic materials is necessary to perpetuate the rule of Sharia Law, which characterizes their national and cultural identity (Tofighian 2014). Hence, media censoring reduces the damaging effect on human culture from modern media and protects its cultural concepts. Since people have different levels of acceptance and self-control, social culture and social development are different in each community, proving that media censorship is crucial to society.
Censorship is justifiable in order to prevent dissent that could hinder a nation’s progress and protects the interest of the nation. With the limitless information the media and the internet are home to today, and the great advancements in technology, come boundless opportunities for the misuse of information. Edward Snowden, for example, leaked top-secret documents from the USA’s National Security Agency, compromising the interests of the nation and undermining the power of government (Morrison 2015). Julian Assange, similarly, was the founder of Wikileaks, a site on which people shared hacked or stolen information for all the world to see (Keane 2013). The existence of such a site in itself is proof of the uncontrollable nature of information available in the media today, and its adverse effects, such as the leaking of top-secret government information to rival countries, who could utilize the information, compromising national security and interests in the progress. The unfiltered, liberal nature of the internet has the potential to be destructive and to cause dissent against the ruling bodies of the government. The Arab Spring of 2010, for example, saw a series of revolts against the government of Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries, which was sparked off and exacerbated by the rampant use of online media as a platform to speak out against governing bodies (Radcliffe 2016). Online groups were also formed that advocated the same agenda, culminating in a series of protests that lasted for months and took the lives of thousands involved in the protests. For instance, the anti-Islam Peigida movement called on its supporters to stage chaotic demonstrations in protest of the Chancellor’s pro-refugee policies (Goulard 2016). These destructions lead to social disorder, affecting the transportation, financial, and tourism industries, resulting in a worsened statehood. Thus, it is essential for the government to step in and regulate the free flow of information available online and unlimited potential to be misused. Censorship protects the interest of people and prevents dissent that could culminate in societal unrest and the loss of lives of many in revolution.
Censorship is justifiable to protect the social cohesion of a country. Government regulation of the media prevents controversial pieces of information from being seen by the public audience in the first place, eliminating the possibility of conflicts between people by filtering out the content to retain and which to leave alone. This lowers the chances of conflicts between people of different racial groups, backgrounds, or beliefs, and therefore maintains social cohesion and harmony in the nation. Wright (2006, p.552) has demonstrated that “[f]ree speech without moderate regulation is just noise” and this can be shown in several manners. For instance, the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad (Hammett 2018). Danish Muslim organizations, who objected to the depictions, responded by holding public protests. The controversy deepened when further examples of the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries. This led to protests across the Muslim world, some of which escalated into violence. The above shows that censorship is needed to prevent racial discrimination and possible repercussions. There are other incidents of the use of hate speech by citizens, for example, unmoderated online forums (Shanahan 2016) and racist propaganda (Bliuc, Jakubowicz & Dunn 2019) which causes toxic online behavior. Division and mobilization of support for racism and the far-right movements spread online unaffiliated supporters of racism could derive strength through online communication. It is therefore essential for the government to intervene and step in, filtering out potentially divisive or controversial content in the media before it reaches out to the people and potentially causes dissent. Strengthen media regulations in relation to race-based reporting (Ho 2017). Hence, to maintain social cohesion and harmony, censorship is justifiable.
In conclusion, media can be empowering by giving a voice to all members of society and allowing judgments and creativity to be expressed freely. However, while this is so, the free flow of information, if unchecked could lead to disruptive dissent, a compromise of national security as well as division in society. The issue of censorship presents a double-edged conundrum for governments characterized by a delicate balance between protection and control. As long as the government is free of ill-will and corruption and acts in the best interest of its society rather than to pursue personal interests, government censorship will create a safe space in the media, for people to seek reliable information and derive full enjoyment, enabling them to live in a cohesive environment.