Freedom of Speech and Censorship
While the media and people need freedom of speech to fulfill what they see as their duty to the general public, authorities may practice censorship if they feel that the information intended to be conveyed would tarnish their image. Danesi defines freedom of speech as the right to express one’s opinions and to pass on ideas to others in a democratic society in the absence of fear of punishment or censorship (297). On the other hand, censorship is defined as any action taken to suppress freedom of speech or expression by an authority that feels that the expression would harm its interests (Fourie 570). In most cases, the authorities that engage in censorship are governments. However, organizations or even individuals outside the government can engage in the practice for the same purpose. Censorship is therefore an infringement on the right to freedom of speech.
The concepts of freedom of speech and censorship can, in my opinion, be expanded. Besides face-to-face speaking such as public demonstrations, freedom of speech is exercised by other avenues. Some of those avenues include: the internet, television, radio and newspapers, among others. In addition to speech, freedom of speech encapsulates other forms of expression such as imagery, videos, symbols, writings or even art. On the other hand, in addition to suppression, if authorities regulate media houses by dictating program schedules and time allocations for particular programs then it amounts to censorship. Censorship also occurs if they force the broadcasting of programs that promote their interests rather than let the media operate freely.
While it feels right to defend the right to freedom of speech and to condemn censorship, it is also worthwhile to be conscious of whether there should be limits to freedom speech. To frame it differently, when is censorship “not” censorship? Free speech is not an absolute right and the assertion is backed by the existence of laws in most constitutions that contradict certain aspects of free speech (Egendorf 8). From one perspective it appears necessary in such areas as wartime reporting. During wartime, enemies such as terrorists can exploit the media’s freedom of speech for disseminating their propaganda and attacks, thus instilling fear on the rest of the globe and encouraging their sympathizers to do the same wherever they are in the rest of the world or even join them. On the other hand, failure to report the realities of war such as casualties and war crimes does not alert the public and human rights groups to take the necessary measures against politicians and leaders. The inevitable result is a conflict of interest, where the media wants to make headlines while the politicians want to push their agendas.
In that view the mentioned, the underlying question is when to protect freedom of speech and when to apply censorship. Freedom of speech should not be above human rights such as human values, human dignity and equality. If in the exercising of freedom of speech, the direct or indirect consequence would be hostility, violence or discrimination, then in that case censorship would be necessary and justified. However, if censorship is used for the purpose of promoting selfish interests by individuals, organizations or governments, then it should not be permitted. There needs to be a clear cut legal definition of freedom of speech and what to apply censorship to and when to do it.
Danesi, Marcel. Encyclopedia of Media and Communication. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2013. Print.
Egendorf, Laura K. Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003.
Fourie, Pieter J. Media Studies. Lansdowne: Juta, 2002. Print.