Forms of censorship that exists to date on media censorship are based on moral, religious and political grounds. The proponents of these forms of censorship have various interests at heart ranging from personal to collective. While it is true that media censorship works in the favor of influential parties, for the most part, the collective good that it does to the community cannot be at all ignored. First, it protects cultural values and prevents desensitization of masses. Second, it safeguards children from being exposed to inappropriate content. Third, and last, it prevents hate culture for certain identities.
On September 17th, 2012, the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency (PTA) ordered a ban on YouTube, one of the most popular and useful sites on the web, following the website’s noncompliance to remove Sam Bacile’s movie, ‘Innocence of Muslims.’The movie caused huge uproar across Islamic communities worldwide because of the controversial nature of its content; it deemed to disrespect the most prominent figure in Islamic religion, the prophet Muhammad. At the same time, several other videos on the subject also went viral leading PTA to ban the site. The ban was lifted officially on 18th January 2016 after YouTube launched a local version of the site for Pakistan. (Kumar) This is an example of media censorship, grounded on religion.
One of the most unpleasant effects of media is that it causes desensitization. Through the abhorrent nature of the media, they are exposed to, viewers start to lose their sense of moral responsibility. It is thus, the responsibility of the state to ensure that sensitive material that ranges from violence to vulgarity should be filtered out. Even media that may seem harmless have catastrophic impacts on the minds of people. It is not much of a surprise that a case erupted in Australia where a 32-year old man who stalked women managed to evade conviction. The lawyer fought the case on the basis that the client’s ‘’cultural background helped to explain his failure to appreciate the seriousness of his behavior.”
What cultural background does that man belong to? That very man belongs to India and has managed to avoid conviction by proving that ‘he was influenced by Bollywood movies to believe that doggedly pursuing women would eventually cause them to fall in love.’ (Pearlman) It is, therefore, a primary concern to ensure that the youth of a country are safeguarded from a medium of art that inspires coquetry and promiscuity at its best. Censorship of Bollywood movies is an area where much work is needed because Indian movies do not help the ‘National thought’ of Pakistanis to develop and hence are a major proponent in ruining the social fabric that is primarily based on values of modesty.
Another one of the public interests that media censorship serves is protecting children from pornographic content. The internet is full of such websites, run by companies who want to increase the number of viewers for their advertisements by publishing them on pornographic sites. These companies take only their personal interest of money-making into consideration while ignoring the social consequences that the content they are propagating might have. If the content of these sites is not censored, it can easily be accessible to everyone including young children. Premature exposure to adult content can have devastating consequences on child psychology.
It impairs a child’s whole experience of childhood, one, which is supposed to bring back happy memories whenever referred to in future. It is, therefore, not fair, for any media to ruin this experience for children. Besides pornography, graphic images portraying violence or cartoon characters such as Batman having magical powers, though taken in a very light tone by everyone tend to have an ever-lasting impact on how children grow up to be individuals in their life. The violence depicted in the cartoon characters comes out in the form of aggression in personality. A study conducted by a research group at the University of Washington supports this claim. The study selected children aged between 3 and 5 years of age from 500 families and divided these children into two groups: a control group and the intervention group, with the former watching violent cartoons such as ‘Road Runner,’ and the latter watching pro-social or educational cartoons like ‘Dora the Explorer.’
The parents were asked to abide by this media diet for six months followed by a questionnaire called Social Competence and Behavioral Evaluation tool. By the end of the research, the researchers concluded that the children in the intervention group were more ‘sociable children’ where as those in the control group ‘manifested more early signs of aggressive behavior’. (M.D.)Therefore, it is evident, that to promote the mental health of children, violent cartoons must be censored from TV.
Besides desensitizing people, some kinds of media also tend to promote feelings of hatred and aggression for certain identities and ethnic backgrounds. This usually comes up in countries where a bias already exists a certain set of people. Such moves by the media further damage these people on two primary levels. First, by damaging these people and their sentiments and emotions, which causes them to feel more marginalized in their own homelands. This inculcates in them a deep sense of resentment against the people who are oppressive towards them. On a second level, it causes them harm by further validating the already set anti-biases that exist in the system.
It then allows for the anti-narrative against these people to be further enhanced by propagating the same things that caused these people emotional traumas in the first place. These claims can be supported by a study of the ethnic minorities by Doreen Indra in The Vancouver press carried out from 1907 to 1976 in which she identified the presence of an underlying ‘moral economy.’ In the same respect, Aboriginal and colored people were portrayed negatively whereas the Scots, English and other groups were rated highly. (Jiwani)This goes on to prove the point that media can be used to portray negative narratives of certain communities over the others.
The main argument that goes against the topic at hand is that it violates freedom of speech which is the birthright of every individual. Proponents of this view believe that by censoring certain portions of the media, the government is basically depriving the public of this right. What these proponents fail to understand, however, is the meaning of this freedom in its whole context. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, the lawful definition of freedom of speech is ‘the right to express information, ideas, and opinions free of government restrictions based on content and subject only to reasonable limitations.’ (Freedom of Speech)
Hence though the basic definition of freedom of speech is to voice out one’s opinions without any fear of government or censorship, this meaning does not at all imply that one can say whatever he or she pleases, without any regard as to the nature of the content for example when the content is of as vulgar a nature as pornography and when people also need to be thoughtful of what is the target audience of its content. This also applies when what somebody says can be offensive or emotionally hurtful to another person. This is why the lawful definition of freedom of speech includes the dominant assumption that the subject is based on ‘reasonable limitations.’ Thus, the whole argument about media censorship violating the freedom of speech becomes void.
To sum up, media censorship prevents evil from spreading and promotes a healthy and happy community which does not feel threatened by corruption by media. Though freedom of speech is restricted in such environments, it is utilized most efficiently without putting any parties at stake or offending any people. By controlling what they say out in public, people learn to be considerate of others which promote a culture of altruism. Government has the responsibility to protect the interests of the public and when one group of people exploit it freedom of speech and is being damaged to another group, the government has full authority to interfere in such matters, even if it includes depriving people of their right to the truth.
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