Censorship is the suppression of any form of public communication which may be regarded as objectionable, harmful, or insensitive (Burress 13). This is as decided by the state, media companies or any other regulatory bodies. The constitutions of most countries provide protection from censorship but this security is in no way absolute.
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In some circumstances, it is hard to tell apart what to censor from what not to. This paper seeks to provide an in-depth analysis of censorship with the aim of determining the extent to which content on broadcast (television and radio) media can be censored. To this end, a brief rationale for censorship shall be provided with exemplification from reported situations. Later, a conclusion will be drawn from the rationale assessment.
There are a number of reasons for censorship. These reasons are divided into five key categories: moral, military, political, religious and corporate (Hoffman 5). The five strata are explained in detail below:
Moral censorship. This is the limitation of the publishing or broadcasting of material that is obscene and goes against established conventions of morality. A good example of a situation in which moral censorship is prescribed is in the case of child pornography.
Any material that can be classified as child pornography is illegal in most jurisdictions in the world and, therefore, its publication and/or broadcast is usually subject to censorship rules and legislations. Usage of filthy words on air is also not allowed in most traditionalist societies (Wittern-Keller 23).
A good example of the implementation of moral censorship is in a 1978 case pitting comedian George Carlin and the Pacifica Foundation. Carlin had a radio show dubbed Filthy Words, which mainly discussed the dirty words which should not be aired (Jay 208).
A man was driving in his car when his son heard the radio discussion. The man went on to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC issued a sanction against the radio station for airing indecent material. Later, the Pacifica foundation filed a case with the supreme court to have the ruling upheld but the court decided instead to allow the FCC accord and remove sanctions depending on how it regarded aired material.
Military censorship. In most countries, information pertaining to military intelligence is usually considered top-secret. This is in an effort to prevent surprise attacks on its facilities. Because of this, access to such information is normally permitted to a handful of individuals (Wittern-Keller 23). Any unauthorized broadcast of such content, by persons not expressly permitted to do so is considered illegal and any media that broadcasts any such material is prone to censorship attempts by the state.
Political censorship. Every government usually has a set of information which it keeps away from the public for the sake of stability. This is especially in times of economic turmoil, where the release of such information could cause the situation to worsen (Wittern-Keller 78).
By holding back such information from citizens, the government ultimately prevents rebellion. With knowledge that the broadcast of such information might put the state in bad light with the citizens, regulatory measures are implemented in the form of censorship.
Religious censorship. Religion is one of the dominant forces that determine how individuals relate with each other. In every country in the world, there is a religious following that is considered superior to the others. In order to maintain its dominance, this group can choose to force limitations on the less influential ones (Hoffman 28).
In addition, one religious group may decide to go against another if they believe their teachings are not similar. Nowadays, there are television and radio stations dedicated to particular religions and any attempt to try and impose the teachings of another religion are not taken politely. For instance, it is highly unlikely that Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) will broadcast a show focusing on Islamic values (Mathiesen 2008).
Corporate censorship. Most television and radio stations are owned by individuals who, in turn, have business partners. In this regard, whenever there is information that portrays the establishment or its owners in bad light, editors shun it or tweak it to suit their interests (Mathiessen 33).
For instance, the hip hop artiste Ice-T once released a song titled Cop Killer which spoke negatively of the police. The lyrics of the son were fiery and resulted in Time Warner, a company he was working with, to compel him to change the lyrics of the song after pressure from various religious and advocacy groups.
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This essay has set out to provide an explanation of the various forms of censorship with focus being on broadcast (television and radio) media. A number of examples were used to offer further explanation on a number of listed categories. By the elastic nature of censorship, it can only be agreed that governments and other regulatory institutions apply it depending on already laid down regulation and structures.
However, there should be situations where censorship should be regarded as an absolute. For instance, in the case of child pornography, there should be no room for discussion and any media that distributes such content should face outright sanctions.
Burress, Lee. Battle of the Books, Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. Print.
Hoffman, Frank. Intellectual Freedom and Censorship, Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. Print.
Jay, Timothy. Why We Curse: A Neuro-psycho-social Theory of Speech, USA: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2000. Print.
Mathiesen, Kay. Censorship and Access to Information, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2008. Print.
Wittern-Keller, Laura. Freedom of the Screen: Legal Challenges to State Film Censorship, 1915-1981, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.