Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Censorship: Protecting the public or hiding the truth?


Film and television have always been subject to some sort of censorship, even at the most basic level, shows or films regarded as too violent, sexual or controversial have been banned. In video games too, censorship is a big issue, with Mortal Kombat being the victim of a media storm in the 90s for its violent finishing moves.

In the age of 24/7 entertainment and relentless information exchange, is it still right for companies to censor information? When you mention censorship, you might think of the limits on the Chinese version of Google or the propaganda of Nazi Germany, but in reality it goes on without the general public even realising.

The most recent example which I noticed was the broadcast of an episode of [Scrubs] on E4. The episode seemed innocent enough, 6 o'clock on a Tuesday evening, but as I watched, I noticed a few things that just weren't quite right. Dialogue was cut short, suggestive lingering camera shots removed and the shows signature fantasy moments bizarrely tame. The reason: censorship. The network, for whatever reason, had taken out the comedy's 'edgier' moments, leaving the show a shadow of it's former self.

There are watershed issues to consider of course, and the concept itself (which essentially forbids the broadcast of illicit material until after 9pm) is important to protect the 'innocence' of children etc. But the real worry is that many of the omissions were nothing more outrageous than you might see on your typical episode of Eastenders, leading us to conclude that either the network is being over-cautious, or deliberately toning-down to appeal to their viewers.

Surely with the show available on DVD, they must know that many fans of the show will have a series or two, so may have watched the show before, making these omissions obvious. Obviously to those who have never seen the show before will be none the wiser, but it is still a concern.

This is just one example of the negative effects of censorship. There are claims long-term exposure to violence on television causes an increased risk of violence in the real world, but there is little evidence to substantiate that this affects more then a sever minority.

Back in 2000, the BBC reported on a study called 'Making sense of Censorship', which concluded that four out of five people would rather watch un-edited versions of film and television, and judge for themselves what not to watch.

The poll also raised the concern of children's viewing, with 98% of adults saying they were responsible for deciding what their children should and should not watch. Interestingly, almost two thirds of people were more worried about censorship on the internet, an issue which has still not been significantly tackled by authorities. At the time the BBC spoke to
Nick Jones, head of film programming for Channel 4 and FilmFour:
"This puts the emphasis on facts rather than pre-conceived myths, It shows middle England is more informed and wants to make its own choices about what they watch - based on information and not the intervention of a 'nanny state' It is now time to take a hard look at confused legislation that assumes there is such a thing as 'the moral majority'" (Jones 2000)
There was controversy last year in the wake of Heath Ledger's death, when there were calls to omit the scene in 'The Dark Knight' which showed Ledger as the Joker in a body bag.

In 1995 Simon Birch wrote a report which discusses why censorship should be stopped. He concluded that the system is not working and that there are discrepancies which mean the public is being mis-informed:

"Sooner or later they will have to amend a system which allows more explicit detail of real sexual peccadilloes through the written media than it allows the viewing public to see within a fictional context." (Birch 1995)
In the end, if the public objects to how something is being done, the government is forced to act to change it, but if people do not even know it is going on in the first place, then we may begin to see an ever-increasing problem in years to come.

1 comment:

Andrew Hemphill said...

So are you suggesting the Government and the media industry are purposely pre-censoring programming in order to weed out thought? Possibly. I think the more likely reasoning is to avoid lawsuits and controversy, which are now becoming commonplace and deadly to the TV industry- look as Sachsgate for example (though that was radio, mostly).

Besides, 'twas ever thus- look at politics- PR people sift through the facts and feed tiny tidbits of information to the populace, enough to keep them happy. But as soon as the populace wise up to the hard fact that politicians are only out for themselves then it's big news.

I wish more people would notice the wool being pulled firmly over their eyes