Censorship is Never Justified
“The creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear. If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free.”
– Salman Rushdie
Censorship is defined as doctrinal or arbitrary suppression of public communication, speech, or other information that governments, authorities, and media outlets evaluate as harmful, objectionable, politically incorrect, sensitive, or inconvenient.
The freedoms of speech, public performance, and access to public information are human rights guaranteed with the constitutions of most countries around the world. In contrast, censorship of free expression is forbidden. The moral and educational norms of modern societies impose the need for positive censorship in terms of protecting minors from disturbing content.
However, most countries also impose political censorship by concealing, distorting, and falsifying information that their citizens have the right to know. In some countries, journalist, reporters and artists are incapable of telling the truth without becoming subjected to censorship, hate and violence; despite the fact that they have a constitutional right to free speech and expression. Although censorship is justified when it comes to the protection of minors and sensitive information, it is never beneficial when it affects artists, writers, journalists and reporters.
In ancient China, the actions of censorship were legitimate instruments for regulating the political and moral life of its citizens. The first censorship law was introduced in China in 300 AD. Socrates is possibly the most famous case of censorship; he was sentenced to drink poison because he violated the political and moral code of his time through free expression.
Spinoza, the founder of liberal individualism and liberal democracy, contributed towards the protection of people’s freedom of speech. In today’s democracies, however, the struggle for freedom of expression is still persistent. The recent terrorist attack in the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo is a proof that free speech and artistic expression are as dangerous as they always were.
The efforts of the U.S. government to combat terrorism often impose political censorship. Students and faculty in universities, newspaper columnists and cartoonists, and anti-government protesters have been the target of censorship acts for expressing dissenting views and opinions about the Iraq War.
According to the reports of CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), attacks and censorship on the press are currently present in Mexico, Sudan, Brazil, China, Turkmenistan, Belarus, North Korea, Libya, and many other countries. The growing censorship is controversial when human rights are being protected even in repressive societies.
Flooded with restricted information, people lose sight of the wider reality and are being subjected to governmental control systems. The global debates on important issues are ineffective when people are misinformed about the reality in their own countries. Today’s powerful leaders do not impose censorship by manipulating the citizens and arresting “dangerous” journalists, but by creating the illusion of freedom while controlling the media. The Obama administration is being heavily criticized for its threatening pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers who expose the dishonest activities of the government.
Censorship of artists, writers and reporters is a serious issue in many countries, whose governments use the excuse of national security to justify restrictions of free speech and privacy. In the times of war, the freedom of speech is always the first victim. Controversial books are still being removed from local public libraries, and the media become pressured about the content they feature.
Although democratic societies ensure the right to truthful information and freedom of expression, governments still use their power to control artists and journalists. The job of an artist or a reporter is not to “protect” citizens from sensitive information; they have a responsibility to encourage debates and social change, regardless of the values supported by the political system. Everything beyond that is publicity without substance.
Regardless of the constitutional rights of the citizens in democratic societies, the true freedom of speech is a paradox. Censorship and intimidation of artists and reporters is still present, although it is not imposed by law. Today’s governments create the illusion of free speech while taking secretive actions to hide important information from their citizens.
Even democratic societies suffer from lack of articulation, which is one of the reasons for the constant growth of social media. Regardless of the reasons behind censorship, these acts are never justified. The truth can be ugly, shocking, challenging or revolutionary, but it should never be censored. If people believe in liberty, they have a responsibility to rise against governmental and institutional oppression and practice their constitutional rights.