Censorship and the Freedom of Expression

One of the contradictions in society is the prevalence of censorship. It may be right to say that censorship is part and parcel of society. After all censorship seems to be practiced by important segments in society: from the government, the media and even blogs especially the more influential ones. 

There are many seemingly valid reasons for censorship – [or more specifically to justify the existence of a body or agency to monitor electronic and print media and then to make decisions to prohibit certain materials, publications or other artistic and literary products from public circulation.] The justification ranges from national security, religious sensitivities, racial harmony and even public morality.  It is not known exactly how censorship affects the vibrancy of public discourse. Some people say censorship “dumb” the society down. The whole idea of having an agency or government body to act as a public censor assumes that the general public cannot make up their minds on what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. On the other hands proponents of censorship argue that censorship is necessary to maintain order in society. This argument is especially valid to counter false accusations or lies or deceit that may spread from electronic or print publications, also censorship might be helpful to counter possible negative effects that may arise if the public obtain these prohibited materials.

Despite those two opposing arguments, there are no comprehensive scientific studies on the effects of censorship to social welfare. One difficulty in conducting such studies is the problem of quantifying social welfare that is attributable to the existence or non-existence of censorship. Nevertheless, at least in theory, censorship has negative effects on social welfare. We might think that there is this so called market of ideas. Censorship is essentially an impediment to the market. What it does is to hinder the entry of certain ideas (emanating from these prohibited materials). Essentially censorship affects the supply side of the market of ideas. With such an impediment, the market cannot work as efficiently as it should be. With censorship, the market of ideas is distorted. It thus follows that censorship reduces social welfare as the public gets to have less ideas to choose from the market of ideas. Now, the above discussions are done exclusively from the domain of (micro) economics.

Other justifications not to support censorship can be made using other means, perhaps the most common will be that censorship is not good for democracy. For example, one can definitely conjure the freedom of expression under the banner of the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

What ever it is, in my opinion: censorship is something that can hinder the growth of public discourse and public exchange of new ideas.  

However, I don’t think this idea is shared by all in society.  For many, the idea of censorship has been ingrained so much in the public psyche that it will be very difficult to argue against it. Sometimes it might be right to say that the issue of censorship is not the case of a government or authority oppressing the masses; instead the issue of censorship is a social issue as many elements of the public support it. If this is the case (and I believe that this is), then those demanding the abolition (or even reduction) of censorship is likely to experience great disappointment.


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