At Issue (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
For as long as human beings have banded together in groups, a tension has existed between the right to exercise personal freedom and the need to protect and preserve the general welfare. Censorship may seem reasonably in many cases as a form of protection against harm to the public welfare, but it raises the question in free societies of how competent the censors are to arrive at correct judgments regarding what is harmful and what is not. Archaeologists and anthropologists have unearthed evidence that in most prehistoric societies some behaviors were prohibited. Taboos relating to every aspect of human interaction existed among the earliest people. The elders quickly ingrained them in the young.
Taboos frequently had to do with sexual conduct and obedience to authority. Much modern censorship is concerned with similar issues. Taboos were also concerned with economic matters, with the distribution of limited resources usually based upon some established hierarchical order. Such ceremonies as tribal initiation rites marked the passage of children into the stage of life at which sexual activity and the responsibilities that accompany parenthood and full tribal membership removed some of the constraints that applied to them during childhood.
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The Roman Censors (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
In ancient Rome, censors, generally elected by the people and serving terms that ranged, at different times in Rome’s history, from eighteen months to five years, were in charge of the census. They kept track of the population and of citizens’ assets, which had to be carefully tallied for purposes of taxation and the determination of military obligations.
The first Roman census is thought to date to the reign of Servius Tullius in the sixth century b.c.e. At this time, responsibility for the census fell to the ruler. Records reveal that the first people specifically designated to be census takers were elected by the citizenry in the middle of the fifth century b.c.e. In 443 b.c.e. two censors were elected, each holding veto power over the other. Roman censors were typically ex-consuls and, at first, had to be patricians. Within a century, however, a plebeian was elected censor; by 339 b.c.e. public law mandated that one censor must be a plebeian.
In addition to keeping records about the population from whom they collected taxes, the censors were specifically charged with upholding the morality of the community. It was within their considerable power to revise the list of Roman senators at any time and to remove any senator who had breached the law or whom they considered morally deficient. Because the censors answered to no one, they had tremendous power, which eventually became so great as to necessitate strict regulation in their...
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Modern Censorship (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Considerable official censorship is directed at the written or spoken word. In societies that were largely illiterate, which was the case in most of Europe until the invention of the printing press in the last half of the fifteenth century, direct control of ideas was usually enforced by rulers with limited spheres of influence.
Once it became possible to mass produce written documents and distribute them within a population that was growing steadily more literate, the rulers and clerics, who had enjoyed an authority seldom publicly contested by their social inferiors, had cause to feel threatened. The vulgar-language Bible, for example, was sometimes more censored than equivalents of the trashy novel, because Church authorities feared, with reason, that as the Bible became widely read, a wide divergence of biblical interpretation would bring disorder to society. The masses became their own interpreters of the ideas that began to fill the increasingly available books and broadsides.
Martin Luther, excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church in 1521, four years after he had publicly posted his objections to many church practices, translated the New Testament into German and urged his followers to become literate so that they could read and interpret Scripture on their own. He thereby endorsed the notion of universal literacy. Societies that had functioned under established rulers whose authority was absolute, now began to move toward the sort...
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Early Attempts at Thought Control (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Shortly after Cromwell’s ascendancy, the Crown supported the Licensing Act of 1662, which prohibited the printing, sale, or distribution of any book in the British realm without the prior consent of the government. This notion of prior restraint did not set well with a populace that, through reading, was becoming more politically sophisticated.
John Milton in 1644 wrote his famed Areopagitica, in which he attacks the Licensing Act that, although it remained officially in place until 1695, became increasingly ineffective. Milton emphasized the dangers of censorship, pointing out that regardless of the integrity and wisdom of the censors, they are mere humans who will find it easier to forbid controversial material than to defend it.
John Stuart Mill, who, like Milton, wrote in defense of human rights, observes in On Liberty (1859): “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Clearly, majority opinions sometimes are shallow and ill-conceived, whereas minority opinions, although they may seem heterodox to the masses, often contain insights lost on all but the deepest and most effective critical thinkers. Notions about a heliocentric universe or about evolution are typical examples of minority opinions that the majority sought to suppress....
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Free Flow of Ideas Versus Control (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The United States has presented a model for the practice and encouragement of free expression. Whereas political dissidents in some countries are imprisoned, exiled, or executed by those in control, the United States, through upholding the First Amendment rights that provide for freedom of speech, of the press, of peaceable assembly, and for the right to petition the government to redress grievances, has viewed dissent as healthy and freedom of information as essential to maintaining honesty and integrity in government. A free press is the requisite underpinning of such an attitude.
Many countries of western Europe have adopted policies about freedom of information similar to those espoused in the United States. Communist Bloc countries of eastern Europe, as well as the surviving communist governments in Cuba and China that outlived the Soviet Union, have regularly practiced preventive censorship through government control of newspapers, other news media, and the arts. A desirable equilibrium between personal freedom and the public good is best achieved and maintained in societies whose governments permit their members free access to the fullest possible universe of ideas. The long-term survival of any government seems dependent upon its ability to earn through its deeds the support of the citizenry it serves. No government has functioned effectively and freely in the long term without the ready exchange of ideas.
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Religion and Censorship (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Many attempts at censorship have been spawned by religious groups. In theocratic countries, such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, all forms of public expression are censored and, when they deviate from notions of the prevailing morality, are punished by the government. In such countries the news media are governmentally controlled. Printed material entering the country is censored to the extent that the pages of magazines may be excised, photographs blackened out, or scenes from motion pictures or television shows cut.
In 1989 the theocratic Iranian government then ruled by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the assassination of author Salman Rushdie and those who, with knowledge of the book’s contents, worked toward the publication of The Satanic Verses (1988), a novel the Khomeini regime deemed anti-Islamic and morally offensive. Other Islamic nations took the step of banning the book; still other nations denounced Khomeini’s act.
In the United States religious censorship more often operates at the grassroots level, rather than at the public leadership level, given the existence of the First Amendment. Religious groups have sought to have books they considered offensive removed from public libraries or public schools.
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Censorship and Education (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
In the United States, as well as in other countries, pressure groups on the Left and Right have sought to control what students will be exposed to in public schools, with the result that books and other media are sometimes banned by school districts. Such censorship is usually justified by their perpetrators’ sometimes quite reasonable fears that a given title is not appropriate for the age group in question. Often, however, those who object do so on grounds that have to do with a narrow and provincial reaction to a book or, quite often, to part of a book. Other motivations for censorship are based upon personal religious, political, or social predilections.
The list of books that have been banned by some school districts in the United States includes such titles as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), the dramas of Sophocles, many Shakespearean plays, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951).
Those who seek to censor often fail to understand that writing that poses searching questions may be discomfiting to those who are wedded to the status quo. Great literature is ahead of its time and great writers have ever had to answer to hostile elements in their societies. History has usually proved, however, the validity and socially desirable outcomes of good writing that searches for clues to help...
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Censorship and New Technologies (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The invention of movable type and the printing press marked the beginning of a movement. Printing made it cheaper to disseminate ideas, and radio further increased the audience that could be served. With the invention of motion pictures, another chapter in the dissemination of ideas was opened, followed by television, which has been incredibly influential in shaping human thought and perception. Finally, the personal computer can connect people in the remotest areas with resources scattered around the world. Working from a keyboard in the remotest part of the Central American jungle or the mountain ranges of Pakistan, one can establish direct contact with people throughout the world and with libraries and other repositories of information.
Governments and other censors have sought to control this growing media revolution to some extent. In the United States, for example, the oversight of radio and television falls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), established in 1934 for the purpose of granting broadcasting licenses that must be renewed. The FCC, however, is prohibited from practicing censorship.
The American film industry from 1922 until 1968 abided by the judgments of the so-called Hays Office, named after a famous leading censor of the Hollywood film industry, in censoring American films. The influence of the Hays Office diminished with the increase in foreign films coming into the country and with the social upheavals of the...
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Classified Information (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Much government information, particularly during crises, is withheld from the public. A typical example would be information about the transportation of troops during wartime. Although the American public is generally willing to accept constraints during periods of national crisis, it is less willing to do so at other times. The historical pattern, however, has been that governments seek to shroud their actions in secrecy, quite often for much less noble motives than the protection of the public; the public has obtained information only with concerted effort.
Most government files are classified in categories indicating how accessible they should be to the public. Strenuous controversies arise when such materials contain sensitive information that might be damaging to those in office, as was the case with the Pentagon Papers. The papers, a long government report intended for reading only by highly placed government officials, discussed American involvement in Vietnam. The papers were more honest than official public statements about the war and the U.S. Government’s aims in the war, and in some key regards contradicted what the government was saying publicly about the war. The papers were published by The New York Times, presenting a conflict between freedom of the press and government secrecy. The government sought to stop the papers’ publication.
In 1976 the Sunshine Act made accessible to the public much material generated by...
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Other Forms of Government Censorship (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The United States Postal Service reserves the right to inspect all classes of mail except first class and to refuse bulk mailing rates to those who seek to use the mails to distribute lewd or lascivious materials. The postal service may also refuse to deliver unsealed materials originating in foreign countries that are deemed by the Secretary of the Treasury to contain communist propaganda. The Postal Service can prosecute those who use the mails to defraud the public.
The U.S. Customs Service engages legally in a form of censorship by refusing to permit some items to enter the country. It may seize any items it considers obscene and submit them to a federal court for final disposition. Famous examples of such actions are the seizure of copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), which were seized when publishers shipped these books to the United States for distribution. The court case resulting from a seizure of Ulysses led to a famous decision that developed the precedent that the whole of a work, rather than a part of it, had to considered in judging its obscenity.
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Private Versus Governmental Censorship (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Considerable censorship occurs in the public sector. If a radio or television network presents controversial programming offensive to some viewers, the viewers may, individually or as members of organized groups, refuse to view that network’s offerings or, even more effectively, may boycott the sponsors of such programming. When large groups with national constituencies impose boycotts, networks are often forced to change their programming and sponsors to demand changes.
One of the most powerful censorship tools that individuals have is their refusal to view programming or patronize companies that publish or broadcast material offensive to them. In such situations, the free market system eventually creates an adjustment, quite without governmental intervention.
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Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Matthew Spitzer’s Seven Dirty Words and Six Other Stories: Controlling the Content of Print and Broadcast (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986) is an overview of censorship in the twentieth century. In Ilan Peleg, ed., Patterns of Censorship Around the World (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993), readers find a global perspective and an informative piece on censorship in the United States by J. M. Balkin. Another world perspective is offered in Kevin Boyle, ed., Article 19: Information, Freedom, and Censorship (New York: New York Times Books, 1988). Focusing on censorship in the 1980’s is Richard O. Curry, ed., Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980’s (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988). Intriguing political aspects of censorship is described in Harold C. Relyea et al., The Presidency and Information Policy (New York: Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1981). William Noble’s Bookbanning in America: Who Bans Books?—and Why? (Middlebury, Vt.: Paul S. Eriksson, 1990) is strong in presenting legal aspects of censorship.
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