Some people say that the media and the arts have too much freedom and that the range of ideas presented by the media which primarily means broadcast television should be more tightly controlled.
Given the present climate we need to remind ourselves that the success of a democratic society is based on an informed electorate; and the only way to have an informed electorate is to allow a free flow of information.
A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood of ideas in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. John F. Kennedy, former U.S. President (D)
Although we all learned about such things in our civics classes, today these values are easy to forgetespecially when the free flow of information contains ideas that go against our basic beliefs.
Some cases in point: the patently absurd headlines and stories regularly appearing in tabloids ("Two-Headed Woman Marries Two Men!''); some of the U.S. TV programs that have pushed tabloid journalism to new heights; and, of course, the photos, films, videotapes, and art work that have been branded by some as "pornographic.''
Censorship for the Sake of Our Values
These and other seeming abuses of free speech have been enough to make many people cry for some type of control of the mediasome type of censorship.
And that's exactly what's been happening.
According to USA Today, overt moves to censor books take place in about 20 percent of U.S. schools each year, with unreported efforts far exceeding this percent.
|Things that have been censored in the United States include Shakespeare's plays, and such classic books as: The Red Badge of Courage, Mr. Roberts, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, 1984, Go Ask Alice, Of Mice and Men, the Tarzan books, and the Harry Potter books.|
The Harry Potter books (responsible for turning on thousands of young people to reading) have been banned by some conservative religious groups that feel that they are associated with witchcraft. In fact, the Potter books were the most censored books in 2002.
Even Webster's New World Dictionary has been banned in some schools because it contains "objectionable words.''
And, it may only be appropriate that Fahrenheit 451, a science fiction novel about censorship, has also been banned. The issue of book censorship is discussed in more detail here.
Press freedom is also an important indicator of a country's freedom. In the last few years the United States has reportedly dropped to 53rd place in press freedom among the major countries of the world.
"This cleaning up of our culture must extend to nearly all domains. Theater, art, literature, movies, the press, posters, and window displays must be cleaned of the symptoms of a rotting world and put into the service of the state...to prevent a people from being driven into the arms of spiritual lunacy."
Interestingly, one of the most disdained fascists in history, Adolf Hitler, won popular approval by promising to clean up "moral corruption" in the media of his time.
Once he gained control of Germany, he was directly or indirectly responsible for the death of:
- 6 million Jews
- 9 million East Europeans
- 20 million Soviet citizens
- 4 million German soldiers (2 million in the course of his "ethnic cleansing")
- 1 million Western Allied soldiers
Then, as now, the idea of "cleaning up the media" can have great popular appeal.
Censorship has not only been taking place in our schools. During the last decade or so, attempts to keep certain governmental activities from the public have reached new heights.
The percentage of government documents marked "classified'' has dramatically increased. Many classified documents have nothing to do with national security -- they include toxic-waste studies and significant findings on occupational hazards.
More recently, of course, the Internet has become a focus for censorship. This is covered here.
In the old days when a messenger gave a king bad news, the king would sometimes become so upset he would kill the messenger. Today, we often see anger directed against today's messengers, the news media.
Although the news media is justifiably blamed for many excesses, those of us who have worked in news know how readily corruption can thrive when it can be hidden from public disclosure. But thanks to communication technology, it's not nearly as easy to hide things today.
To cite just one example, using today's high-quality camcorders, concerned citizens have documented a wide range of abuses of the public trust. We've seen some of the results on network news and public affairs programming.
Even cell phone camera videos often end up on sites such as YouTube and occasionally even end up on network and cable news programs.
Despots who fear losing their position of authority are generally quick to initiate censorship. The more insecure their status the more desperate their efforts.
Throughout history totalitarian regimes and censorship have gone hand in hand. (See the article, The Broadcast Media's Growing Role in International Politics in another section).
Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. -U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (R )
Put another away, personal insecurities are often related to an inability to tolerate new ideas or ideas that run contrary to our own.
Personal Defense Mechanisms
1. First is selective exposure, where individuals try to minimize exposure to ideas that run contrary to their own beliefs. In this way their views have little chance of being challenged or changed even though important new facts may emerge.
Those who try to limit their own exposure (or other people's exposure) to new ideas may be creating a situation that actually works against them in the long run.
Studies -- especially those associated with brainwashing -- indicate that people who do not have a chance to compare and defend their ideas are most apt to abandon them when they are confronted with an opposing view -- even though that opposing view is unsound.
However, those who have had ample opportunity to test and defend their views are most likely to hold on to them when they are challenged.
Interestingly, some radio talk show hosts screen their guests so that no one who holds a view contrary to their own will be featured on the show.
Rather than welcome the chance to confront what they think is an inferior idea and stimulate thinking, they seem to fear such ideas. Thus, you can often tell how secure a person is in their personal beliefs by how well they tolerate opposing beliefs.
The Incestuous Amplification Effect discusses an important aspect of this.
2. The second defense mechanism is selective perception. In this case when individuals are presented with ideas or data that contradict their beliefs, they refuse to "see" or recognize the information.
If, despite their efforts, they have to confront these ideas, the individuals may try to discredit the source, or attribute the ideas to an incompetent, corrupt, biased, or evil source.
3. Next is selective recall. Simply put, we tend to remember things that support our viewpoints and conveniently forget those that don't.
For example, after a TV program is shown which contradicts some of our personal beliefs, we tend to remember only those facts that support our original beliefs. Or, we may remember "different facts," and feel that the program actually supported our views.
In a Stanford study, 48 students, half of whom said they favored capital punishment and half of whom said they opposed it, were presented with two pieces of evidence, one supporting and one contradicting the claim that capital punishment deters crime. In a follow-up check of attitudes both groups were convinced that the evidence presented supported their initial position.
4. Finally, there is source amnesia. For this we need to consider how memory works.
A fact is first stored in the hippocampus of the brain, but each time we recall it, our brain "writes it down again." During this "rewriting," the central fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is frequently separated from the original context or source.
We know we "heard it," but we don't recall if it was a rumor circulated on the Internet or from a talk radio caller, or it was from a respected source, such as a medical journal. As the source is forgotten, what at first may have been recognized as rumor or fiction, takes on credibility.
Adding to source amnesia is the previously discussed selective recall where our memory holds onto ideas that support our beliefs and forgets crucial facts that don't.
How does this relate to the production of news and documentary productions?
First, documentary and news writers may assume that they can use experts to attack information that is not true. However, by repeating the false information, they may inadvertently reinforce the false concept.
Many celebrities do not sue tabloids when they print blatantly false information because the act will bring the false information -- especially if it's scandalous information -- to the attention of people, who thereafter will forget that it was proven false. (Source amnesia plus selective recall.)
If you wanted to dispel the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, for example, which 18 percent of people believe, you would not just say, "the sun does not revolve around the earth" and bring up the image of the sun revolving around the earth in people's minds.
With time, some listeners would only remember "sun revolves around the
earth." Truth would be better served by saying and illustrating how, "the
earth revolves around the sun."
Who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?
-John Milton, author best known for the epic, Paradise Lost.
Limited Ability to Make Essential Adjustments
Although these defense mechanisms tend to protect our belief systems, they also limit our growth and personal opportunities.
Possibly more importantly, they limit our ability to adjust to changing needs by being able to consider new solutions to problems.
Throughout history we've seen what happens to species and societies that were not capable of adequately adapting to change. Today, change is assuming an ever-accelerating pace.
Part of this change involves the emergence of ideas that are neweven ideas that threaten cherished beliefs.
At one time it was heresy to suggest that the world was not flat or not at the center of the universe. Those who were bold enough to openly advocate another view were censored or even tortured until they "repented." And if that didn't work, they were simply killed, "for the good of society and their souls."
The Price of Freedom
We must remember that the price of freedom involves tolerating ideas that differ from our own.
Sometimes we must defend the rights of those we disagree with in order to ensure that we, ourselves, will retain the freedom to share ideas that we consider better and more worthy.
No, freedom and values are not in conflict as long as we are personally strong enough to consider alternative views and make informed choices based on the knowledge that this freedom makes possible.
This famous quote refers to the bit of history associated with Hitler noted above.
In Germany they came first for the Communists,
- Attributed to Martin Niemoeller