WHAT IS STATE CENSORSHIP?

State censorship is the prohibition of certain parts of books, films, music, the internet and the news which the state deems to be unacceptable.

REASONS FOR STATE CENSORSHIP

MORAL STANDARDS

The state may censor certain publications which it deems offensive or too graphic. These moral standards may be shared by most citizens of a country or are simply those enforced by the state. Countries which are more conservative about their social values will be more likely to censor for this reason. For example, the Kenya Film Certification Board has in the past banned films which normalise homosexuality.   

NATIONAL SECURITY

Publications may also be censored if they are considered a threat to national security (the safety of a nation against terrorism and unrest). If a publication’s message incites violence against the government or a certain part of society then the state may prevent it from being published. 

POLITICAL OPPRESSION

Censorship may also be used to prohibit the publication of political beliefs contrary to those of the government. This aims to strengthen the power of the governing party by making it difficult for opponents to gain support. It is much harder for opponents to circulate their message if they cannot communicate it through broadcasts, flyers or online posts. 

State censorship is therefore a powerful tool in preventing effective political opposition. For example, the Apartheid regime in South Africa sought to crush the liberation movement, the African National Congress, through state censorship. 

EFFECTS OF STATE CENSORSHIP

State censorship carried out on the basis of moral standards or national security may be supported by citizens who share similar values or care for the safety of others. However, censorship used for political oppression is likely to have negative effects: 

FREE SPEECH

Many people believe that a right to free speech (no restrictions on what you are allowed to say) in both is an important civil liberty. It allows people to participate in political society and encourages a more diverse range of opinion. State censorship will undermine the right to free speech because it prevents people from expressing any beliefs deemed to be unacceptable. 

DEMOCRACY 

Successful democracy requires free and fair elections. Elections will fail to be free or fair if state censorship is employed. If political opponents cannot publish ideas with which the government disagrees, they may not be able to communicate their policies to voters. In addition, a censored press will not be able to criticise the government and hold it to account. 

SHOULD STATES CENSOR

Much of whether state censorship is justified depends on the reasons behind it. Removing or changing parts of publications which go against social standards or are threatening to people can be helpful for social cohesion and national security. However, using state censorship for political oppression is damaging to human rights and democracy. Nations should aim to let people express themselves, and only censor content which poses a threat to people’s free expression. Then the world will be a much more diverse and tolerant place!