OPINION: History lesson – what is censorship?

Kaitlin FlemingEditor in Chief

Censorship. What a fun word to throw around when something doesn’t quite go your way. But what exactly is censorship and what does it look like?

As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, censorship (noun) is “the institution, system, or practice of censoring.” 

When most people use the word, they are stating that they or someone else is being censored, typically by governments or corporations. Other people claim censorship when their comments are removed from a newspaper’s Facebook post. Obviously, the two are not the same.

True censorship dates as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, where citizens were restricted in their religious beliefs. Moving on along the timeline of censorship, we arrive at ancient China, where “…it was contrary to Chinese good taste to speak openly of the faults of one’s government or of one’s rulers,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Censorship also had a place in Medieval Christendom. Perhaps the most notable censorship came in the form of restrictions placed upon Galileo in 1633.

Rolling on along the timeline, we arrive at the 17th and 18th centuries, where censorship ran rampant. But in 1695, a great victory was had in the abandonment of prepublication censorship in England thanks to John Milton’s Areopagitica in 1644. Areopagitica has remained a classic statement of the arguments against censorship.

Not only was England ripping up previous forms of Censorship, America was also finding its footing and its top priority was freedom of speech, as seen in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. That amendment, ratified in 1791, states: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But not every country has been granted the freedoms that America enjoys and abuses on a daily basis. 

Let’s look at the Soviet Union briefly. Before the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was a comprehensive system of supervision of manuscripts before publication. Such supervision, in the light of official Communist Party doctrines, was not limited to political discussions or to books and newspapers but seemed to cover all kinds of subjects and all forms of publication, including broadcasts. Because of this intense censorship, the average citizen could not know more than the leaders allowed them to know. 

Moving beyond the Soviet Union, to more modern examples of censorship, we find Cuba. Censorship in Cuba is extensive. It has resulted in European Union sanctions from 2003 to 2008 as well as statements of protest from groups and governments. Books, newspapers, radio channels, television channels, movies and music are heavily censored. Media is operated under the supervision of the Communist Party’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which “develops and coordinates propaganda strategies,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report of most censored countries in 2006.

The CPJ’s current list of top 10 censored countries are ranked as follows: Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Belarus and Cuba; with Eritrea being ranked as the most censored country. 

According to CPJ, “in the top three countries–Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan–the media serves as a mouthpiece of the state, and any independent journalism is conducted from exile. The few foreign journalists permitted to enter are closely monitored.”

So, before this turns into a 30 page doctorate level dissertation on censorship, let’s recap.

Censorship, historically, is the government or other large entities stopping people from saying things against them. Typically used in communist driven governments or in regions where religion heavily controls governments.

Throughout history, people were often killed, injured or threatened to keep them silent.

Censorship is not someone deleting a comment on a page they manage. If someone’s Facebook page were removed entirely, that would be bordering on censorship.

Call me a snowflake millennial, but comparing a comment removal (after an explanation of why comments were removed was provided) to true censorship is ludicris to me.

So, the next time things don’t go your way and you feel like being upset at some young whipper-snappers who are just doing the best they can while learning how to do things better, don’t claim you’re being censored, because you aren’t being censored. Feel free to say whatever, whenever about whomever you like on your own social media platforms, but don’t expect and demand a seat on someone else’s.

Here is a list of things that your time and energy is better spent on:

  • Helping the homeless
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Donating to those less fortunate
  • Recycling
  • Spaying and neutering your pets
  • Volunteering at a local animal shelter
  • Picking up litter on the side of the roads
  • Using sustainable items (like fabric grocery bags instead of plastic ones)
  • Spreading the word about voter registration
  • Supporting minorities in their fight for freedoms
  • Researching political candidates
  • Fighting against racial inequalities
  • Supporting victims of sexual assault
  • Encouraging children to get involved in STEM activities
  • Donating to Australian wildfire relief funds
  • Or anything else that is important to you or the people you love.

Kaitlin Fleming is the Editor in Chief of the Chanticleer Newspaper and is a senior at Jacksonville State University. She is obtaining her degree in Communication with a concentration in Digital Journalism and has over five years of real field experience as a reporter.

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