Four Fallacies About Censorship

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Jimmyeatworld, Oct 26, 2004.

  1. Jimmyeatworld

    Jimmyeatworld Silver Member

    Jan 12, 2004
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    This is an opinion piece by Mary Jacobs that appeared in the Dallas Morning News last Friday. I just happened to come across it Monday and thought a lot of people here would like it. I know everyone isn't going to agree with 100% of it, but it's a very well written piece that makes some great points.

    Mary Jacobs: Four Fallacies About Censorship
    Common-sense restrictions don't threaten our liberties

    07:07 PM CDT on Thursday, October 21, 2004


    Federal regulators are threatening to slap a fine of nearly $1.2 million on the Fox Broadcasting Co. for an episode of Married by America, which the regulators claim was indecent. And, predictably, Howard Stern and others are crying foul, saying the move will stifle free speech.

    Just in case you're wondering, the show in question featured scenes of a participant licking cream off a stripper, simulated sex and lots of pixilated nudity. I haven't seen it, so I won't opine on whether a fine was appropriate. But to automatically equate the fine with stifling free speech invokes many Americans' misguided notions about what constitutes censorship and what the First Amendment actually guarantees. Here are four of the most appalling.

    Stupid Assumption No. 1: Any governmental prohibition against certain types of sexual material on the airwaves amounts to censorship.

    Now wait a minute. If a citizen earnestly wishes to view pictures of people having sex, is that really so hard to do? You can buy sexual material at a 7-Eleven; you can find sex in every imaginable permutation on the Internet. And as long as it involves consenting adults, it's all legal.

    The issue here is whether to restrict material that's shown on the public airwaves. We all own the airwaves, so we all have a say as to what we will and will not allow in this public venue. Think of it this way: Penthouse can publish explicit photos. But you can't post the same photos on a billboard.

    Stupid Assumption No. 2: Prohibiting certain material infringes on viewers' rights.

    A few years ago, a local station declined to broadcast a program with explicit content. An acquaintance indignantly complained that this decision infringed on her "right" to watch that program.

    Guess what? The Constitution doesn't guarantee that your favorite programs will be provided via broadcast television at a time convenient to you. (And only in America, I might add, would someone confuse her entertainment preferences with rights.)

    Lots of programs don't make the airwaves for all sorts of reasons, most of which relate to money. If the network declines to air a program that's clearly racist, or that promotes illegal drug use or condones violence against gays, is that censorship? No, it's the network exercising good judgment.

    Stupid Assumption No. 3: Any limitation on free speech will inevitably lead to all-out censorship.

    I call this the "NRA argument." It's the same flawed logic that the National Rifle Association uses when it says that, if the government restricts assault weapons, pretty soon nobody will be able to own a butcher knife. So-called free-speech advocates use the same logic – implying that, if we censor sexy scenes now, the next thing you know the airwaves will be spewing nothing but government-issued propaganda.

    Free speech has never meant "no rules and no prohibitions whatsoever." Placing some limits doesn't automatically lead to complete government control. Because limits do exist – they always have.

    As an example, BET just pulled an Eminem video that made jokey allusions to Michael Jackson's alleged child molestation. Is that suppressing the truth about Mr. Jackson? No, it's a judgment call that says that's not the way to address the issue.

    Stupid Assumption No. 4: Restricting sexual material is just another way the government can control our lives.

    Nobody says that aloud, but that's the underlying notion. It's what George Orwell wrote about in 1984: power defined as the ability to withhold pleasure and inflict pain.

    But there was another book called Brave New World that envisioned another way that society might go awry. In that scenario, power was wrested from the people by preoccupying them with pleasure and distracting them with entertainment.

    You want to talk censorship? Then talk about the stories that never hit the airwaves – not because they are suppressed, but because they fail to entertain us, they're not visual or they don't titillate. If you want to consider what distracts us from what's most important, consider our miniature attention spans, the media's obsession with ratings and our unwillingness to expend the effort to engage the complex issues. The worst kinds of censorship occur in areas where we still have plenty of power, but we simply don't care to exercise it.

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