2008-01-19Konferenzveröffentlichung DOI: 10.18452/1307
Save Police Time, Beat Yourself UP
The Problem of Self-Censorship
The legal, regulatory, administrative and policing structures of censorship and related forms of information suppression are well known and widely discussed. The much more insidious phenomenon of self-censorship is paid less attention, but it arguably prevents greater volumes of information, argument and comment from being openly expressed. Self-censorship by private individuals might only have consequences in terms of personal frustration, but selfcensorship by journalists and other commentators, political activists, and those involved in civil society campaigning is arguably socially damaging. Four main reasons why people censor themselves can be identified and these will be discussed in relation to four types of subject matter that are commonly seen to require self restraint. First, self-censorship is most likely where people succumb to the 'constraints of conformity' and allow a perception of the levels of expression that society will tolerate to stifle their individual responses. Second the pressures associated with the policies and political preferences of media owners can encourage commentators to tailor their views to fit those of their employers. Third, there is fear of the application of the law (such as measures on defamation, official secrets or incitement) to material that has been publicly communicated in some form. Fourth there is awareness of prior restraints that can be applied under some systems of law to communication that is being planned or prepared. Whilst it is still likely that committed people will speak out despite all or any of those pressures, in some subject areas it is easier for individuals to convince themselves that restraint is appropriate. The three areas of national security, social stability and protection of national culture all attract sentiments that can range from simple patriotism to xenophobia; can include socio/political conservatism; and emerge from variants of affection for a particular culture that stretch as far as cultural chauvinism. A fourth area that can be added to this list is a tolerance, based in cultural relativism, of ideas and practices that might well demand to be questioned. Recognising the origins of any impulse to self-censorship is the first step towards avoiding the suppression of necessary critiques before they gain utterance, and creating a more open discourse in society. If others suppress our freedom of expression it is bad, but if we allow ourselves to censor our own opinions it is worse.
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