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Template:Otheruses3 Image:CensoredRhodesiaHerald.jpg Image:WieczorWroclawia20marca1981.jpg Censorship is the control of speech and other forms of human expression, often by (but not limited to) government intervention. The ostensible motive of censorship is often to stabilize or improve the society which the government would have control over. It is most commonly applied to acts that occur in public circumstances, and most formally involves the suppression of ideas by criminalizing or regulating expression. Furthermore, discussion of censorship often includes less formal means of controlling perceptions by excluding various ideas from mass communication. What is censored may range from specific words to entire concepts and it may be influenced by value systems.

Sanitization (removal) and whitewashing are almost interchangeable terms that refer to a particular form of censorship via omission, which seeks to "clean up" the portrayal of particular issues and/or facts that are already known, but which may be in conflict with the point of view of the censor. Some may consider extreme political correctness to be related, as a socially-imposed (rather than governmentally imposed) type of restriction, which, if taken to extremes, may qualify as self-censorship.



"Censorship" comes from the Latin word "censor". In Rome, the censor had two duties, to count the citizens and to supervise their morals. The term "census" is also derived from this word.

An early published reference to the term "whitewash" dates back to 1762 in a Boston Evening Post article. In 1800 the word was used publicly in a political context, when a Philadelphia Aurora editorial said that "if you do not whitewash President Adams speedily, the Democrats, like swarms of flies, will bespatter him all over, and make you both as speckled as a dirty wall, and as black as the devil." (citation needed)

The word "sanitization" is a euphemism commonly used in the political context of propaganda to refer to the doctoring of information that might otherwise be perceived as incriminating, self-contradictory, controversial, or damaging. Censorship, as compared to acts or policies of sanitization, more often refers to a publicly set standard, not a privately set standard. However, censorship is often alleged when an essentially private entity, such as a corporation, regulates access to information in a communication forum that serves a significant share of the public. Official censorship might occur at any jurisdictional level within a state or nation that otherwise represents itself as opposed to formal censorship.

Censorship Types

Most public speech depends on an organized forum such as a court or town meeting, or on technologies such as paper, the printing press, radio, television, or the internet. In each case, only a minority of people have initially had free access to the medium of public communication. Most types of censorship do not seek to ban certain ideas "in a vacuum," but rather they restrict what may be said in particular media of communication.

In England, censorship began with the introduction of copyright laws, which gave the Crown the permission to license publishing. Without government approval, printing was not allowed. It is sometimes called prior restraint when a court or other governmental body prevents a person from speaking or publishing before the act has even taken place, which is sometimes viewed as worse than punishment received after someone speaks, as in libel suits.

Censorship can be explicit, as in laws passed to prevent select positions from being published or propagated (e.g. the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, and Australia, where certain Internet pages are not permitted), or it can be implicit, taking the form of intimidation by government, where people are afraid to express or support certain opinions for fear of losing their jobs, their position in society, their credibility, or even their lives. The latter form is similar to McCarthyism.

Subject Matter

The rationale for censorship is different for various types of data censored. There are five main types:

  • Moral censorship is the means by which any material that contains questionable ethics is removed. The censoring body disapproves of the values behind the material and limits access to it. An example is pornography.
  • Military censorship is the process of keeping military intelligence and tactics confidential and away from the enemy. This is used to counter espionage, which is the process of gleaning military information.
  • Political censorship occurs when governments conceal secrets from their citizens. The logic is to prevent the free expression needed to revolt. Democracies do not officially approve of political censorship but often endorse it privately. Any dissent against the government is thought to be a “weakness” for the enemy to exploit. Campaign tactics are also kept secret: see the Watergate scandal.
  • Religious censorship is the means by which any material objectionable to a certain faith is removed. This often involves a dominant religion forcing limitations on less dominant ones. Alternatively, one religion may shun the works of another when they believe the content is not appropriate for their faith.
  • Corporate censorship is the process by which editors in corporate media outlets intervene to halt the publishing of information, which portrays their business or business partners in a negative light. Privately owned corporations, being in the business of news, sometimes refuse to distribute information due to the potential loss of advertiser revenue or shareholder value which adverse publicity may bring.

State Secrets and Unwanted Attention

In wartime, explicit censorship is carried out with the intent of preventing the release of information that might be useful to an enemy. Typically it involves keeping times or locations secret, or delaying the release of information (e.g., an operational objective) until it is of no possible use to enemy forces. The moral issues here are often seen as somewhat different, as release of tactical information usually presents a greater risk of casualties among one's own forces and could possibly lead to loss of the overall conflict. During World War I letters written by Britsh soldiers would have to go through censorshp, this comprised of officers going through letters with a black marker and crossing out anything which may compromise operational secrecy before the letter was sent. The World War II catchphrase "Loose lips sink ships" was used as a common justification to exercise official wartime censorship and encourage individual restraint when sharing potentially sensitive information.

A well-known example of sanitization policies comes from the USSR under Stalin, where publicly used photographs were often altered to remove people whom Stalin had condemned to execution. Though past photographs may have been remembered or kept, this deliberate and systematic alteration of history in the public mind is seen as one of the central themes of Stalinism and totalitarianism. More recently, the official exclusion of television crews from locales where coffins of military dead were in transit has been cited as a form of censorship. This particular example obviously represents an incomplete or failed form of censorship, as numerous photographs of these coffins have been printed in newspapers and magazines.

School Textbooks

The content of school textbooks is often the issue of debate, since their target audience is young people, and the term "whitewashing" is the one commonly used to refer to selective removal of critical or damaging evidence or comment. The reporting of military atrocities in history is extremely controversial, as in the case of the Nanking Massacre, the Holocaust (or Holocaust denial), and the Winter Soldier Investigation of the Vietnam War. The representation of every society's flaws or misconduct is typically downplayed in favor of a more nationalist, favorable or patriotic view.

Also, some religious groups have at times attempted to block the teaching of evolution in schools, as evolutionary theory appears to contradict their religious beliefs. On the other side, textbooks in atheistic totalitarian regimes (e.g. in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states) often missed even basic information about religion and its positive cultural and social achievements.

In the context of secondary-school education, the way facts and history are presented greatly influences the interpretation of contemporary thought, opinion and socialization. One legitimate argument for censoring the type of information disseminated is based on the inappropriate quality of such material for the young. The use of the "inappropriate" distinction is in itself controversial, as it can lead to a slippery slope enforcing wider and more politically-motivated censorship.


Censorship is regarded among a majority of academics in the Western world as a typical feature of dictatorships and other authoritarian political systems. Democratic nations are represented, especially among Western government, academic and media commentators, to have somewhat less institutionalized censorship, and instead are depicted as promoting the importance of freedom of speech. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics maintained a particularly extensive program of state-imposed censorship. The main organ for official censorship in the Soviet Union was the Chief Agency for Protection of Military and State Secrets generally known as the Glavlit, its Russian acronym. The Glavlit handled censorship matters arising from domestic writings of just about any kind — even beer and vodka labels. Glavlit censorship personnel were present in every large Soviet publishing house or newspaper; the agency employed some 70,000 censors to review information before it was disseminated by publishing houses, editorial offices, and broadcasting studios. No mass medium escaped Glavlit's control. All press agencies and radio and television stations had Glavlit representatives on their editorial staffs.

Some thinkers understand censorship to include other attempts to suppress points of view or the exploitation of negative propaganda, media manipulation, spin, disinformation or "free speech zones". These methods tend to work by disseminating preferred information, by relegating open discourse to marginal forums, and by preventing other ideas from obtaining a receptive audience.

Suppression of access to the means of dissemination of ideas can function as a form of censorship. Such suppression has been alleged to arise from the policies of governmental bodies, such as the FCC in the United States of America, the CRTC in Canada, newspapers that refuse to run commentary the publisher disagrees with, lecture halls that refuse to rent themselves out to a particular speaker, and individuals who refuse to finance such a lecture. The omission of selected voices in the content of stories also serves to limit the spread of ideas, and is often called censorship. Such omission can result, for example, from persistent failure or refusal by media organizations to contact criminal defendants (relying solely on official sources for explanations of crime). Censorship has been alleged to occur in such media policies as blurring the boundaries between hard news and news commentary, and in the appointment of allegedly biased commentators, such as a former government attorney, to serve as anchors of programs labeled as hard news but comprising primarily anti-criminal commentary.

The focusing of news stories to exclude questions that might be of interest to some audience segments, such as the avoidance of reporting cumulative casualty rates among citizens of a nation that is the target or site of a foreign war, is often described as a form of censorship. Favorable representation in news or information services of preferred products or services, such as reporting on leisure travel and comparative values of various machines instead of on leisure activities such as arts, crafts or gardening has been described by some as a means of censoring ideas about the latter in favor of the former.

Self Censorship: Imposed on the media in a free market by market/cultural forces rather than a censoring authority. This occurs when it is more profitable for the media to give a biased view. Examples would include near hysterical and scientifically untenable stances against nuclear power, genetic engineering and recreational drugs as scare stories sell. It also occurs when politicians/culture expect the media to give moral guidance - i.e. not publishing the cartoon depictions of Muhammed.

Prevention and Bypassing

Since the invention of the printing press, distribution of limited production leaflets has often served as an alternative to dominant information sources. The use of widespread distributed network communication, data havens and decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing systems such as Freenet has overcome some censorship. A recent phenomenon attempts a form of counter-censorship, speaking directly to members of society in a culture jamming effort. Individuals or non-conforming groups use mass communication techniques to attack implicit domination, offering trivial or deliberately irrelevant messages to blunt the impact of dominant mass communication.

Throughout history, mass protests have served as a method for resisting unwanted impositions, though modern technology often affords control of mass meetings to the groups who control the sound amplification systems around which the meetings are organized. Modern sound-reinforcement technology has sometimes led to a perhaps mistaken perception that all those in attendance at mass gatherings agree on a broad spectrum of ideas, when in reality, individual members of the crowd might agree only in narrow measure with those whose voices are amplified. It has been suggested that mass reproduction, through broadcast, print, and network technology, of the ideas amplified from a podium can effectively censor the voices of individual members of a crowd.

Interestingly, the censorship of coarse vernacular in the United States doesn't always extend to non-American pronunciations. Instead of shit, the Scots and Northern English variant shite may apparently be used, as may fook for fuck. (Note: this was witnessed on broadcast television in early 2004, before the FCC levied several highly publicized fines.)

In recent times, censorship has taken the form of limiting access to public information in more useful formats, such as electronic information used by regulatory agencies, while the right to access and disseminate reports based on public information is limited to forms of information that can only be analyzed by scanning or reading paper documents. Fees for paper and other materials used to release public information that are disproportionate to the actual costs of paper copying also serve to regulate dissemination of information about government activities. In an age of distributed electronic networks, of advanced security algorithms that can facilitate supervised limited access to such networks and of low-cost photo-reproduction technology, limiting the availability of information that can be mass produced by imposing disproportionate fees as a condition to release of information is said by some to be a parallel to media taxes imposed but then outlawed in American in the 17th Century.

Even apparently open network communication can be the target of allegations of censorship, because such networks rely on technology not evenly distributed among all population segments. Groups with the most time and resources to participate in networked communities may, perhaps unbeknownst even to most group members, use their superior access to supplant the information that would be provided by non-users with versions that are preferred by the dominant sector.

Censorship Around the World

Censorship of Media

Other Types of Censorship

See also

External links

World Wide Web links

Freenet Links


  • Abbott, Randy. "A Critical Analysis of the Library-Related Literature Concerning Censorship in Public Libraries and Public School Libraries in the United States During the 1980s." Project for degree of Education Specialist, University of South Florida, December 1987. [ED 308 864]
  • Burress, Lee. Battle of the Books. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. [ED 308 508]
  • Butler, Judith "Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative" (1997)
  • O'Reilly, Robert C. and Larry Parker. "Censorship or Curriculum Modification?" Paper presented at a School Boards Association, 1982, 14 p. [ED 226 432]
  • Hansen, Terry. The Missing Times: News media complicity in the UFO cover-up, 2000. ISBN 0-7388-3612-5
  • Hendrikson, Leslie. "Library Censorship: ERIC Digest No. 23." ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Boulder, Colorado, November 1985. [ED 264 165]
  • Hoffman, Frank. "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship." Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. [ED 307 652]
  • Marek, Kate. "Schoolbook Censorship USA." June 1987. [ED 300 018]
  • National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC). "Books on Trial: A Survey of Recent Cases." January 1985. [ED 258 597]
  • Small, Robert C., Jr. "Preparing the New English Teacher to Deal with Censorship, or Will I Have to Face it Alone?" Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English, 1987, 16 p.
(Arguing that an english teacher should get advice from school librarians in preparing to encounter three levels of censorship:
  1. Rejection of adolescent fiction and popular teen magazines as having low value,
  2. Experienced colleagues discouraging "difficult" lesson plans,
  3. Outside interest groups limiting students' exposure. [ED 289 172])
  • Terry, John David II. "Censorship: Post Pico." In "School Law Update, 1986," edited by Thomas N. Jones and Darel P. Semler. [ED 272 994]
  • [1] Supreme Court rejects advocates' plea to preserve useful formats
  • World Book Encyclopedia, volume 3 (C-Ch), pages 345, 346cs:Cenzura

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