There’s no question about it: censorship sucks. The whole idea of censorship implies that the majority of people lack the maturity and the good sense to express their opinions in a constructive manner. It necessitates that a small group does the thinking for everyone else.
We shudder when we think of the totalitarian regime, the most common context of censorship. Complete control of information and expression is used by abusive governments to ride roughshod over populations chained in ignorance. The cycle of despotism is perpetuated by the fact that ignorance keeps societies from the “coming of age” that allows stable-rooted democratic government to take hold.
A media safeguarded under the First Amendment is necessary to the health of a democratic society. But whatever power and influence granted to the “fourth estate” by virtue of this protection also demand equal parts of ethical obligation and responsibility to the public.
The truth hurts. The media often shows us things we don’t want to see. During the Vietnam War era, the media brought the public shocking images of the conflict in Vietnam, to drive home the reality of the war. This was the sort of activism America needed at the time. This use of fourth estate power was meant to fulfill an obligation to the public.
It is disturbing to see the media, whether national or local, neglect ethical obligations. When those sources that claim the responsibility of informing us shovel “human interest” fluff to the detriment of real news, they do us a disservice. When they cast aside all but a vestige of journalistic standards and ethical consideration in a mad dash for the scoop and all the aggrandizement that goes with it, they do us a far-reaching injustice.
From the O.J. Simpson trial, to the Monicagate debacle, to the Princess Di flap, to each and every media circus surrounding a school shooting, the misuse of media power by the unscrupulous has stained the reputation of the media. Every unsubstantiated rumor, every outlandish disrespect for basic human privacy, every irresponsible parade of the names and faces of minors, every media perpetuated cycle of tragedy in the end eats away at the foundation of the First Amendment protection of the press.
Students of politics know that a power vacuum will not remain for long. Eventually, someone will assume the burden, if not out of ambition, then out of sheer necessity. This is also true of a vacuum of responsibility. When individuals or groups cannot or will not govern themselves, they end up under the heavy yoke of an authority that proves far more disagreeable. The same principle also applies to the media. The door is opened to censorship (and all the evils that can accompany it) because of a juvenile lack of accountability.
If we neglect any sort of principle other than those of self-indulgence and aggrandizement, if we as a people refuse to think for ourselves and let our minds and hearts and television sets be continually void of any sort of enduring virtue, those in high places will set out in earnest to save us from ourselves.
Censorship is for the sheep.