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The Necessity of Censorship in Media

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Should the media be censored? Who should censor the media? And can self-censorship work? In order to answer these difficult questions, there must be an understanding of censorship laws, how censorship functions in society, specifically within Media Production and how the Media functions. Using a case study and law and ethics research, this paper will draw conclusions and propose in depth answers to these questions.

Australia’s media is currently subject to broad censorship laws that are divided into a range of categories. Australia’s censorship structure is often surrounded by controversy. This is more so present with the recent introduction of Internet censorship (Broadcasting Services Amendment Act, 1999). There have also been recent changes to the censorship legislation and often regular reviews of the classification guidelines for media (Jackson, 2001).

As it stands in Australia’s legal system, films, computer games and publications classifications are administered by the Classification Board (McKenzie, 2004 p.52). The Classification Board ensure that films are given classifications such as M or MA, according to their content and are shown only at designated times (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2012). Television, radio and internet are all subject to content regulations by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which can refer online content for classification by the Classification Board (Jackson, 2001). In the music industry, there is system of voluntary labelling guidelines for audio tapes, records and CDs manufactured in Australia has been developed by the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) and the Australian Music Retailers’ Association (AMRA) (Jackson, 2001).

Internet censorship, however, is a vastly different medium when it comes to enacting censorship regulations. ACMA does have the ability to enforce content restrictions on Internet content that is hosted within Australia and they maintain a blacklist of overseas websites which is then provided for use in filtering software (Jackson, 2001). These restrictions focus offences such as child pornography, sexual violence, and other illegal activities. These are mostly accumulated using a consumer complaint process (Jackson, 2001).

However, the digital and online space is heavily unregulated and does not follow the same laws as other media forms in Australia. The internet has made state enforced censorship almost totally ineffective (Coleman, 2014). There is a massive amount of digital media that makes censorship enforcement very difficult. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter have their own terms and conditions that allow them to remove posts and accounts that breach their set terms (Heins, 2013). This has no legal precedence and allows for individuals to publish what they please so long as it meets the sites terms and conditions.

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The case of the Sunrise Indigenous adoption segment aired in 2018, highlights the necessity, implications and limitations of censorship within the field of Media. In March 2018, Sunrise aired a panel discussion about the removal of Indigenous children from dangerous or abusive family situations (Schetzer, 2019). It wrongly claimed that Indigenous children could not be fostered by non-Indigenous families. During the segment, commentator Prue MacSween suggested that “the Stolen Generation might need to be Repeated to save children from physical and sexual abuse” (Schetzer, 2019). This segment was quick to be condemned by the public for the untruthful and insensitive handling of the topic. Many media watch dogs and journalists have pointed out that the segment featured no experts or any Indigenous panellists. ACMA announced that the Channel Seven breakfast show did indeed breach the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in airing false claims that Indigenous children could not be placed with white families (ACMA, 2019). It was also found that the segment provoked “serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as it contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group” (ACMA, 2019).

Seven attempted to defend their actions by labelling the ACMA’s decision as “censorship” and “a direct assault on the workings of an independent media” (Schetzer, 2019). This case shows Media often using censorship as a label in defence to breaches of the law. Deformation law and contempt are greater sources of state-sponsored censorship. Here we can see the clear link between censorship, deformation and contempt. In a statement released on September 4, 2018, by the ACMA chairwoman, Nerida O’Loughlin, it was emphasized that, “…broadcasters can, of course, discuss matters of public interest, including extremely sensitive topics such as child abuse in Indigenous communities. However, such matters should be discussed with care, with editorial framing to ensure compliance with the Code.” (O’Loughlin, 2018). This distinction shows how in order to act professionally, self-regulation in sensitive topics is important, to not only avoid deformation and contempt, but in producing unbiased and truthful media.

There needs to be some standard to provide balance between free-flowing discussion and reasonable censorship for Broadcast Media and Publications. Classifications being a form of censorship, may be limiting but are necessary. The issue is that there are many other forms of censorship. As individuals we have agency in what we choose to consume. What should be censored is often subjective. Censorship that is the withholding of information, hinders free-flowing communication in society (Martin, 2008). This brings forward the notion of media producers self-censoring.

Self-censorship is a necessary, yet complicated form of censorship (Hills, 2010). Media producers, in order to act ethically, must weigh all possible consequences, legal or not before a work is published. Self-censorship seems very straightforward given legal consequences but acting ethically in regards to external or societal consequences is not an explicit in nature. At times it seems there is arbitrary and heavy-handed nature to state-sponsored censorship (Hills, 2010). Self-censorship, by contrast, is less obvious and more complex. It can apply at every step of the Media Production process; research, pre-production, production and editing. No individual can accurately predict when and if censorship will occur, but the risk can be minimized and, simultaneously, the likelihood of self-censorship can be decreased by being adequately prepared (Hills, 2010).

John Horton, 2011 states, “focusing on authorship tends to lead to seeing self-censorship as more akin to a freely chosen act of self-restraint, while focusing on the self-censor as instrument presents it as one specific form of ordinary censorship.” (Horton, 2011). In other words, when an individual chooses to self-censor it seems like a conscious use of agency and free will, whereas the holistic notion of self-censorship is just another form of regular censorship.

There needs to be a free flow of information for an open and free society. Censorship of the Media is quite often when laws such as Deformation and Contempt are broken. Individuals can employ their own agency in what media they choose to consume. Classifications can be seen as a form of censorship but are necessary in providing consumers information on the content a film or show contains, so they are able to choose to view it or not. Self-censorship carries many risks, and not all individuals will follow ethical procedures and censor themselves in the right situations. However, it is the ethical responsibility of media producers to assess the consequences of what they will publish before it is. As seen in the Sunrise case study, self-censorship at any point of the production stages of that segment, would have reduced the consequences and spread of misinformation drastically. State-enforced censorship has the potential to overstep boundaries of freedom of speech or expression, but this does not mean that censorship itself hinders freedom. A media producer publishing works unedited and unregulated could do more damage to discourse in society than it does good. Media Producers then, must self-regulate the work they publish from a position of ethical responsibility and ensure there is a standard of truthfulness.

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The Necessity of Censorship in Media. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“The Necessity of Censorship in Media.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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The Necessity of Censorship in Media [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Sept 25]. Available from:
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