Censorship: Justifiable?

Is censorship ever justifiable?

I suppose the answer to that question depends on your perspective, whether you’re the censorer or the censoree.

My son is writing a paper on censorship – Merriam Webster defines it: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable . We also talked about what it is not – media bias, religious freedom, children’s rights, copyright or criminal law issues. Janiece had a good post on the subject today, too.

Tonight, at the dinner table we talked about some fairly major examples of controversial, often-criticized censorship.

  • The banning of books from our curriculum, school & public libraries.
  • China’s harsh censorship and prohibition of external information, including the Internet, print, video and audio media.
  • The Islamic world’s prohibition of media, styles, and cultural influences that are considered to be Western.
  • The MPAA, PMRC and ESR ratings and restrictions on movie, record and game content.
  • The FCC’s restrictions and penalties on tv and radio content deemed obscene or objectionable.
  • Private or public funding tied to restrictions on public information, for example, sex education in the schools.

We also discussed whether there were any instances where censorship was perhaps appropriate and justifiable in western culture. The only examples I could think of were:

  • The revelation of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity by White House staffer Lewis Libby.
  • Restrictions and penalties for volatile or harassing speech in the workplace.
  • Restrictions, controls and removal of speech in a privately-owned forum. See my blog comment terms and conditions for an example.

Can you think of examples of justifiable or acceptable censorship in today’s society? No extra points for actually requiring me to apply censorship according to above terms and conditions. ;)

4 Responses to “Censorship: Justifiable?”

  1. Tania Says:

    I always think of wartime and censorship of communications that could reveal information of strategic importance.

  2. Bill Says:

    I am just as worried about self-censorship. For example, has anybody ever held their tongue about the TSA as they travel through security at the airport in fear of getting the anal probe from a government contractor?

  3. Bryan Says:

    There’s a line between editing and censorship. The line, it seems to me, is whether the censor is the government. A newspaper is perfectly within its rights to report what it wants to…as are we on this blog. Electronic media is trickier, since it is licensed due to the theory that bandwidth is limited (query whether that’s really true anymore) – because of that the government does exercise some content ristrictions which come closer to censoring. I doubt that too many of us would be ok with NBC broadcasting snuff films just before showing “The Smurfs” reruns in the afternoon.

    Safety and security are probably the classics for why you can justify censoring of some speech. I think it was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater just for kicks. How far you get from that fairly sensical, reasonble example is where you get into trouble.

  4. Bill Says:

    Bryan, I would agree except I would call it censoring if fear of the government’s reaction to my statements causes me to hold my tongue. At that point we’ve left the realm of editing and moved in to censorship.