When (if ever) is media censorship justifiable?

Published: November 26, 2014
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The writer is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Communication Practice at Columbia University. She tweets @anamk10

The writer is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Communication Practice at Columbia University. She tweets @anamk10

How does one measure the degree to which content is ‘inappropriate’ or ‘harmful’? Are there cases where media censorship is justifiable?

Some parents implement censorship policies as a form of protection. For instance, media censorship prevents children from viewing inappropriate material that could have a negative impact on their health and emotional well-being. Portrayals of violence as a means of seeking revenge, respect or justice could skew a child’s perception of conflict-resolution. Violence should not be seen as the primary solution to resolve a dispute. Young minds could also be adversely influenced by movies and websites that casually approach topics surrounding pornography and illegal drug usage. In this case, parents may welcome the opportunity to censor various media outlets in order to block access to pornographic images, violent films or illegal pharmaceutical websites.

There are also times when censorship policies could prevent news outlets from displaying graphic and disturbing images. In October 2011, many newspapers and TV channels showed vivid images of Muammar Gaddafi’s mangled body after he was shot to death. The former Libyan dictator’s body was not even partially blurred for the purpose of concealing his gaping wounds. It was wholly displayed with flawless precision, to the point where the images began to induce an uncontrollable cringe reflex.

Media censorship is a global phenomenon. Let’s delve into its disadvantages in Pakistan. In May 2014, it was reported that the National Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the lifting of the ban on YouTube. However, it appears as if nobody is seriously willing to drive this decision forward since YouTube remains unavailable. Pakistan has blocked YouTube since September 2012. The government claimed that the video-sharing website failed to take down a controversial movie trailer that revealed damaging content pertaining to religion. The movie trailer deserved to be condemned. However, if the government decided to block YouTube on the grounds that it displayed harmful content, it should exhibit a similar degree of resistance against other media outlets that exhibit objectionable material. Why aren’t websites promoting hostile militant activities also being censored? Government entities in Pakistan are most likely trying to pacify certain extremist groups by allowing them to distribute their content. It is apparent that censorship policies have the tendency to create double standards.

People consistently discuss the benefits and consequences of media censorship. Supporters of censorship say that online media websites expose people to harsh and disturbing content. Those who oppose censorship claim that people can utilise online media platforms to gain access to a wide breadth of information and communicate with others who share similar interests. Critics also accuse government bodies of exploiting censorship regulations to serve their own interests. In my opinion, national censorship regulations set a precedent for governments to value public ignorance over knowledge. People can be conveniently restricted from viewing an inflammatory event, story or film. However, highly developed communication and interpersonal skills are defined by the ability to not only embrace different opinions, but also tactfully confront unfavourable generalisations. At the end of the day, censorship can be disadvantageous or beneficial, depending on the context in which it is taking place.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Sexton Blake
    Nov 26, 2014 - 9:20AM

    Anam Khan writes some useful comment, but then counters them with other comments which are far from useful. I can understand this because If I myself write precisely and truthfully, the media will not print it. For example, it is usually OK to describe the brutal activities of a few Islamics, but not those of the Western/Zionist world as a whole. However, I have to admit that although not perfect, ET is becoming more relaxed than previously as to the content it allows.

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  • Rex Minor
    Nov 26, 2014 - 9:27PM

    The question should not be whether there should be or not some sort of cesorship on the informationwhich is released for public view but as to who should be the one exercising this option. The author has not dealt with it and may I suggest that she writes another article on this. I am personaly against Sx minortate intervention whose task should be limited to legislations on what is right or not right for the communities, but allow independent bodies to handle it.

    Rex Minor

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  • Parvez
    Nov 26, 2014 - 11:31PM

    Censorship by a government authority is just counter productive. Restricting children from exposure to undesirable material is not censorship…….its responsible parenting or societal responsibility.

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  • Rex Minor
    Nov 27, 2014 - 11:30PM

    @Parvez:
    Not parents responsibility Sir but a legislation is required which identifies it as a crime and offenders are liable for prosection and a jail sentence..

    Rex Minor

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