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Censorship Mandates: Better Or For Worse

Since the past, censorship has been in the limelight for its ups and downs. It has been subjected to various discussions for the part it plays in a society and more so, fundamentally in a country. Therefore, it raises several questions like is it that beneficial in enforcing standards in a society or does it restrict freedom of speech, while creating a domination by the government. This is why we have to establish, connect and walkthrough both sides, the pros and cons of censorship mandates. Does censoring need a limit, or is government intervention not needed? These are just some of the related questions which need to be looked at.

Introduction - How can censorship be defined? In general, it is the suppression or restriction of a particular type of speech or communication. It is generally used by the government or private institutions to clamp down and regulate various forms of media such as books, magazines, television or film when they post or run something obscene, politically unacceptable or inaccurate, hate speech, or something which is a threat to a person or country's well-being.

We see many examples of censoring on a daily basis. Sometimes in film, when the characters use profane or offensive words, we hear a bleep as it goes against the guidelines of the TV network. It is often also used to prevent slander against a reputed person. Therefore, we see the meaning and general use of censorship.

Theoretical Background Of Censorship

Censorship has been around since ages, even being documented around 399 BC, when the Greek philosopher Socrates' teachings were being censored by the Greek state. His student Plato went on to advocate for censorship in his essays. Even in India, censorship had long been used by the state to exercise its control over the people.

In colonial times, magazines and weekly/daily circulations would be checked and regulated often if there was any sign of seditious activity, 'hate' literature or inciting of riot or revolutions. Bal Gangadhar Tilak had been charged thrice with the case of sedition for inciting violence. Free speech was being suppressed in the name of censorship.

Even after independence, there were more restrictions placed on free speech, so there could be less criticism of the government. The Indira Gandhi government imposed extensive restrictions on free speech during the emergency times. That was a dark era for India. There have been various incidents where freedom of speech is being restricted and sedition laws being misused to stop criticism of the government.

The landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh had held sedition laws as legal but reduced its scope, but still it is being misused. We can see in the very recent case of Vinod Dua, where the SC quashed the case of sedition against him for making remarks against Prime Minister Modi and the government for how they handled the migrant crisis during the Covid lockdown. So we can observe that, from 2000 years ago till now, there has been some sort of censorship being implemented.

The Salience Of Censorship

In a country like India, censorship is very prominent. It is extremely beneficial in protecting the interests of the country and its people. A society without censorship would be a dystopian society. It is very salient in a large democratic nation like India. Censoring and regulating mediums are very significant as not only do they protect our nation and citizens from conflicts, it also protects their privacy and morality.

There is a vast amount of evil being circulated every day, and censorship helps in keeping it out of our reach. It restrains obscenity or vulgarity which is beneficial as some of the content might be too inappropriate or mature for certain age groups. There are various films, shows and magazines which promote or sell lewd and vulgar themes, and censoring helps in restraining them. We can see that as an example when certain scenes are blurred, edited or bleeped out.

Apart from this censoring also plays a major role in protecting our country, stopping our military secrets to get leaked, which could create an unrest amongst the citizens. It also prevents the spread of misinformation if rightly used.
  • In a vast country like India, since religion is far spread and diversified, thus even one crude sentence can turn into communal fights, hence influencing censorship to be trivial. There can be large religious riots if any objectionable substance against any groups is published. There can be times when a dominant and more followed religion may try to establish its authority and force limitations on the less popular ones. Therefore restricting the content and religious censorship is beneficial in these circumstances.
     
  • Sometimes even the government and ruling political party may exercise censorship to hold back information from the common masses. This is done to reduce the chances of rebellious activity which might spread wide political unrest and disturbance.

Therefore, we see how censorship can be fundamental in protecting the interests of the country and its citizens. But is this always the case? It does some good but what about the bad? The cons? It has many negatives too. There is a thin line between censoring with good faith and curtailing the freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental right.

Criticisms Of Censorship

Throughout history, censorship has been scrutinized for being misused as a weapon and hindering growth. While it certainly has some merits as it restricts certain content, it indirectly averts the discourse of restricted content. Censorship is sometimes used as a tool by the government and manipulated to control the citizens. This can threaten democracy and impose a restriction on the freedom of speech. Valuable information which may benefit the country can be withheld by the government for its own use with the power of censorship.

Censorship also suppresses the opportunity of public debates which are crucial in a free country. Another such argument that can be made is that what should be censored depends entirely from person to person. It is subjective. What one person may find objectionable, another may not. So it is hard to find common ground between the two.

The media should never be permitted to censor anything since it is their responsibility to disseminate knowledge, not to conceal it. Businesses should select whether or not to use censorship as a business model based on what they feel their consumers desire, rather than on any legal requirements.

Triviality Of Freedom Of Speech And How Censorship Diminishes It
Freedom of speech and expression essentially is a fundamental and human right. No one should have the inopportunity to exercise it. Everyone should always have the right to speak anything they want, no matter where they are. People should also be able to debate with others whose viewpoints they disagree with.

Democracy can't be metaphorically spelled without the freedom of speech as not only does it encourage people to express and share their opinions, it also provides a platform for free and fair discussion where the citizens can express their assents and dissents.

It would be a great injustice if an individual's opinion is suppressed, because a great country always offers its people the freedom, liberty and guarantee of safety. In India the freedom of speech and expression is provided by Article 19(1)(A) of the constitution which guarantees free speech to the citizens of India but not foreign nationals. Free speech can be exercised through any mediums such as in writing, TV, radio, by mouth etc.

Though an important point to be noted is that this freedom can never be absolute. There will always be reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech with just cause. For the greater good of the country and to keep it morally stable, there needs to be a balance between what can be censored and what can't.

Sometimes the government of certain countries can misuse the laws for their own purposes. Censoring the internet without just causes and deleting their criticisms are exceptional measures employed by oppressive and authoritarian countries to restrict information flow. Even in times of public unrest, they lead to the censoring of otherwise lawful information that could be utilized to calm and reassure big crowds. The surprising aspect of this is that many such countries that do this are established democracies. The irony in that!

Censorship In India

The constitution guarantees us, the citizens, the freedom of speech with reasonable restrictions. We can say and do anything we want as long as it isn't morally wrong, unacceptable, and does not incite violence. The Indian press does not enjoy such freedom due to government hostility. Many times various news articles, commercials etc. are removed by the government in the name of fake news. India has a ranking of 142 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.

This is due to various cases where journalists are threatened and killed for telling the truth. Many times they are intimidated not to publish content by using physical harassment. If someone dares to speak out against the government, they are charged with sedition cases. Even during the pandemic, journalists were restricted from publishing for how the government handled the covid-19 cases.

They misused digital censorship to silence protests, block access to the internet and restrict content online, even if it was nothing objectionable. The government needs to be more transparent in dealing with such issues and make clear necessary grounds for objecting against digital content.

One such prominent case is of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, where Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 was struck down because it violated Article 19(1) of the constitution of India. People took advantage of the law's imprecise and broad interpretation to further their personal and political goals.

This was a contentious law that might have resulted in jail time for anybody who made unpleasant remarks, postings, or messages. It was routinely and maliciously utilized by cops. Due to Section 66A, citizens of India were not able to criticize the government. Thus, better laws were needed.

Censorship In Other Countries:

  1. Canada:
    very less is censored in Canada apart from obscenity. In Canada, appeals by the judiciary to community standards and the public interest are the ultimate determinants of which forms of expression may legally be published, broadcast, or otherwise publicly disseminated.
     
  2. China:
    The government regulates information for a variety of purposes, including suppressing political dissent and censoring events that are negative to the Chinese Communist party. All media capable of reaching a large audience is censored by the government. Television, print media, radio, film, theatre, texting, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the Internet are all examples of this.
     
  3. United States:
    Censorship in the United States entails the suppression of speech or public communication, and it presents concerns of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the United States Constitution's First Amendment.
     
  4. In Spain, censorship refers to the repression of speech or public communication, and it raises concerns about freedom of expression. Though, it is ranked 29 out of 180 in the reporters without borders list.
     
  5. The Constitution of Serbia prohibits censorship. International and state legislation ensure freedom of expression and information, even if the rights inherent in the laws are not consistently applied. Indeed, there are still reports of censorship in the country.

Conclusion

We see that various countries have separate ways to deal with censorship, its importance and how it can be misused to restrict freedom of speech. It has its ups and downs. Freedom of speech and expression is a critical component of a democratic society. A proper balance should be struck between freedom of speech and expression and other factors such as privacy and security.

Internet filtering has so far failed to meet expectations and is woefully insufficient. The government needs to stop the blocking of content for their own personal gain. It should implement certain steps to make sure that while censorship is perfectly valid but it shouldn't be used as a weapon against the people.

Let people voice their opinions in a democracy without fearing for their lives. Let us all live in peace and harmony in a nation known for its egalitarianism. So we together need to step up, raise our voice and create a balance between the thin line of censorship and freedom.

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