Censorship of America
Censorshipis defined as the suppression of the freedom of speech and presspublications or broadcast. The First Amendment of the Constitutionoutlines the provisions of the freedom of expression. However, inparticular circumstances, the government may withdraw this right fromindividuals or institutions if the content of their speech orpublication infringes on another person(s) rights. So censorship inAmerica happens when the legal authorities prohibit or modifiescommunication that appears harmful or dangerous to other people. Someof the common types of materials that can be censored include thosethat depict extreme violence, the content of adult nature thatdisplays numerous states of nudity, inciting information thatprovokes indecent responses and matters of high-level nationalsecurity or public safety (Abbasi and AlSharqi 1-7). Restriction ofthe freedom of speech has elicited a number of litigation issues inthe country, and this makes it necessary to understand where to drawthe line for public good and selfish interests.
Historyof Censorship in America
Thejourney of censorship in the US began around 1734-1735 in the famouscase of Zenger Vs Cosby. Zenger was a newspaper printer from New Yorkwhile Cosby was the fraudulent governor of the same state. Zengersuffered a jail term of eight months before being sued for libel forpublishing articles that spoke of Cosby’s corrupt administration.Hamilton came to his defence by invoking the principle of jurynullification which earned Zenger a not guilty ruling in 1735. Asfrom 1830 to the advent of the civil war, censorship was exhibited bythe actions of the Post-Master General when he refused to postabolitionists related mail to the Southern states.
Anotherhistorical period that was characterized by heavy censorship ruleswas the twentieth century because of the two world wars. It wascrucial this particular time because of the need to preserve defenceand security-related secrets from the rival nations. The thenPresident, Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill that established anoffice of censorship with its first director as Byron Price. Thepublications of the press that was written by journalists whoaccompanied the defence forces were subject to high-level censorshipwhile every letter that left or entered the US from December 1941 wasexposed to high-level scrutiny to prevent leakage of any secrets thatwould endanger the nation’s security. During the war in Vietnam,the New York Times also suffered a threat of censorship when itattempted to publish highly classified information from the Pentagon.During the Gulf War in the early 1990s amidst the reign of PresidentBush Snr., the government instituted serious restraints for the mediain relation to the publishing or broadcasting high-level militaryinformation. Finally, in recent years, that is the 21st century, themajor issue of censorship arose in 2003 during the invasion of Iraqwhere press publications were subjected wartime censorship throughaction such as mass surveillance.
Thequestion of whether censorship is justified is one that elicitsdifferent responses and sparks a lot of controversies. In my opinion,censorship can either be correct or wrong depending on thecircumstances around an issue at a particular point in time. It cannever be ruled out as either good or bad on face value becausevarious issues at different times necessitate certain reactions.
Mostof the proponents of this debate argue that censorship is crucial inmaintaining social order. It is mostly practiced for the social goodand moral reasons for the community and the in particular vulnerablegroups such as children who cannot filter the kind of informationthat they absorb into their brains (Azarkievic 3). The content ofextreme graphic violence or obscene nudity or expletive language canhave long-lasting effects on children or even cause trauma whichaffects their psychological reactions. Exposure to violence mightcontribute to violent behaviour whereas adulterated sexual contentmay encourage promiscuity in later years. The adverse effects ofviewership of uncensored content in the US by children and teenagershave already started being felt through the increase in violentbehaviour and inappropriate social behaviour.
Anotherimportant reason for censorship is the security aspect. In recenttimes, developed countries are fighting constant battles whosewinners are determined by the possession of the most valuablecurrency which is not dollars, Euros, yens or sterling pounds butinformation (McDonald 7). These governments endeavour to protectthemselves from invasion consistently by ensuring that top secretsthat increase their vulnerability are closely guarded at all times.For example, the nation which has been under constant threat of anattack from terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda needs to maintain ahigh level of classified information to avert this situation. Thelatter is done for the sake of common good for the citizens andtherefore makes censorship in this particular circumstances veryjustifiable.
Freedomof speech in some very exceptional cases can be a threat todemocracy, an issue that has been proven accurate by the ongoingcrises in nations such as Syria. Sometimes, people use freedom ofspeech and press to spread extremist ideologies and radicalizationwhich creates political and religious disasters, and as a result,people lose their lives, countries fall, and property is destroyed(Azarkievic 4). The fascist movement in Germany that led to theWorld War II emerged because some people spread hateful comments andinformation about a particular section of the community, that is theJews, and the general public believed it. As a result, the extremistsstarted committing atrocities towards this particular group and thisbred animosity. The consequences of this small misunderstandingpropagated by the misuse of freedom of speech was a six-year worldwar that cost billions of dollars, loss of millions of lives and theirreversible effects of the use of chemical weapons. That is themagnitude of the disaster that created when a society is not carefulabout the information generated to the public.
Toa large extent, some people disagree with the fact that censorship isbeneficial to the community. One of the reasons for this opinion isthe argument that censorship restricts and kills creative efforts ofwriters and journalists (Abbasi and AlSharqi 22). The process ofwriting or coming up with an original piece of art is tedious andgruelling. When the government bansanartist work after going through this long and exhausting process, itis highly likely that he/she will be less interested in producingmore. When this happens to many people in the industry, then thesetalents and skills start dying slowly.
Theother issue that arises when the subject of censorship is highlightedis that most of the times, the government, and other agencies abusetheir power in effecting this restriction. A number of occasions,governments throws the card of censorship when it is likely to suitthem. For example, to limit the public knowledge on corruptionscandals or involvement in shady or illegal deals (Abbasi andAlSharqi 22). WikiLeaks has been a forefront leader in revealing suchinformation and has released some highly classified information suchas the government expenditure and activities in the Afghanistan warand infamous Hillary Clinton’s emails (Stossel 1). In other cases,it is the tool used by dictatorial leaders to subdue their subjectsso as to quell resistance. Therefore, the aspects of ethics inimplementing censorship rules comes to play in this case and onetends to negate the rationalization of censorship.
Itis evident that censorship is a two-sided ideology whose facets canhave both positive and negative repercussions. Therefore, theimportant thing is to know when to apply the measures after clearlydefining the reasons to be of benefits to the overall nation atlarge. After all, lack of information does not cultivate innocencebut breeds ignorance.
Abbasi,Irum Saeed, and Laila AlSharqi. "Media Censorship: Freedom VsResponsibility." Journalof Law and Conflict Resolution7.4 (2015): 21-25. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Azarkievic,Jahor. “Under What Circumstances Can Censorship Be Justified?”Universityof Glasgow-School of Social and Political Science.15 Dec 2015. Web. 10 April. 2017
McDonald,Barry, P. “Censorship and the Media: A Foreword.” NotreDame Journal of Law Ethics and Public Policy 25.1(2012): 1-11. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Stossel,John. “Censorship in America.”Real Clear Politics.Oct 14 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 17
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