Censorship, Media Ownership & Accessibility on the Internet

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***CENSORED*** is a subject of much debate.

It has a long history, and the debate about ***CENSORED*** ‘s relationship to and impacts on ***CENSORED*** has existed as long as the idea of ***CENSORED*** itself.

A very early and famous cases of ***CENSORED*** dates back to 399 BC, when  ***CENSORED*** was sentenced to drink poison for corrupting the youth. ***CENSORED*** was surely not the first to be ***CENSORED*** for going against the status quo, and this tradition of ***CENSORED***, as an act in the best interest of the public, is still upheld, to various degrees, in many countries today.

While proponents of ***CENSORED*** may suggest it is a necessary act to uphold the established order of society, to protect the members of society we deem vulnerable and to safeguard sensitive information, opponents argue that it stifles the rights of individuals to ***CENSORED***

I’m of course discussing censorship versus what are generally widely defined as, and accepted as, basic human rights of freedom, additionally censorship usually impacts more widely than on the censored individuals also affecting those who have been denied access to whatever material has been censored. In journalism and media this presents particular problems.

One may argue that censorship of the media in a democratic state is counter-intuitive to democratic function. Citizens need true, balance, fair, accurate and object information to allow them to make informed choices about issues of public interest which affect, or may affect, their rights and well-being (Human Rights). Censorship may threaten the objectivity, accuracy, truth, fairness and balance of information being censored.

The same can be said in a market system, which is often tied ideologically to the notion of democratic participation, that censorship, or a lack of transparency, is counter-intuitive to the proposed functions of the market. Consumers require accurate information about the effects of their purchases (in order to effectively act as the invisible moral hand of guidance and uphold the idea of markets automatically channeling self-interest toward socially desirable ends). And yet this idea of balance, objectivity and accuracy, is at odds with the role morality of those in Advertising and PR. These media roles demand the provision of information that is designed to persuade the public to consume in favour of particular institutions or corporations; the independence and balance of information is not the priority, the priority is profit, censorship is not an ethical dilemma in this pursuit. Certainly censorship in journalistic media is an ethical dilemma, in most instances it restricts the flow of some sort of information, restricting how informed the people receiving the communication are, and therefore restricting their ability to make decisions considering all factors. Censorship often fails to provide a full picture.

The problem with censorship lies in the defining of what is and what isn’t considered acceptable or moral, and in who wields the power to make these decisions, and what their motivations are. Generally speaking censorship is imposed on individuals or groups by larger groups and institutions. A Government may seek to censor public servants ( link ) or a broadcaster, particularly if it is publicly funded ( link ), or seek to censor an entire arm of it’s operations through less transparency (link and link), a publication may censor part of an article or a broadcasting standards body may seek to censor an advertisement (link), or public pressure may force a private company to censor itself (link) or Government may impose or try to amend laws that may be argued to be censorship (link). The larger institution almost always holds more power than the censored, therefore censorship is an act of exercising authority and power and oppressing that which is deemed to be improper, it is an act of control and potentially suppression.

Censorship itself is not inherently right or wrong, what is the debated factor is the decisions of what to censor and what not to, often this takes place in the context of legality and morality, and who makes these decisions, both contentious areas that are in constant states of flux.

Two U.S. Court cases dealing with issues of censorship in school newspapers illustrate both the restrictive effect for individuals’ right to free expression and the implications of private ownership of media outlets. In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260, 108 S. Ct. 562, 98 L. Ed. 2d 592 (1988), the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Hazelwood, Missouri, school principal who removed several articles from a student newspaper. The articles dealt with teen pregnancy and a student’s feelings about her parents’ divorce. The court in Hazelwood held that a school newspaper is not a public forum, and thus granted school officials the right to determine what type of student speech is appropriate and to regulate such speech. This example illustrates that while an article written by students for students about teen pregnancy may have been of interest to, or beneficial for, some the student body/readers, the decision whether to share that information was made based on the school’s ideas of what was appropriate, and upheld based on the idea that the school owns the school newspaper.

This authority to censor is at the heart of another debate on media ownership which highlights the struggle between old media channels and emerging ones, in print, television and radio a relatively few controlling interests have possession of a high percentage of media outlets (link or link) Australian media ownership has been described as one of the most concentrated in the world the Gillard Government attempted to address this to safeguard media diversity and public interest in a gutsy move to reform media ownership but failed, the common perception (often upheld by such privately owned media outlets) of Government intervention in media (and other markets) is that it restricts freedoms of the press (link) this view is usually fails to express concerns that concentrated media ownership also restricts press freedom. Many of these media outlets are run with the ethos that strong shareholder returns are the most indicative measure of success rather than the quality of the information, this prompts the argument that information may be censored in the interest of the companies profit rather than the good of the public causing particular issues when the company has multiple external interests that may be impacted by certain information becoming public (link).

As new technologies emerge that create increasingly accessible platforms for communication, these questions of who holds the power to control channels of information, who has the authority to censor what, and what content they should actually censor become more widely contested. Alternate sources of information open up that are not yet subject to the conventional censorship of older media channels, allowing a free flow of ideas that may be viewed as inappropriate by authorities of the status quo (link – Arab Springs). Policy on Internet censorship, ownership, privacy and security is increasingly being debated by Governments, the public and the Private Sector. As more people gain access to public and open platforms of expression and mass communication the push to place more controls on this grows, the demand to be able to monitor and restrict this flow increases as it’s potential to disrupt business as usual or rapidly and broadly disseminate information undesired to be public grows (link and link and link and link) and the desire to profit from it in and own it in a fashion akin to previous channels intensifies. Much of the push to restrict, monitor and censor internet is justified along the lines of national security interest or even personal privacy and financial security with little discussion from proponents of increased control on the cost (link)

Internet censorship is essentially a bid to restrict, profit and control. Will the internet remain open, accessible and democratic, with limited censorship and the will of the majority (link SOPA/PIPA) regulating it’s content, where everyone has access to platform share their voice, where communication flows to and from its source, or will it become a tool of marketing owned largely by a small group of interests, regulated and monitored for dissent, where privacy is sacrificed for security, and ultimately a shadow of it’s potential just channeling advertising right into your hand?


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