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Define The Word Censorship Media Essay

The Oxford dictionary has four definitions for the word censorship. Unlike the two definitions given for censorship; the Roman Magistrates who took census or the psychology definition describing the mental faculty that represses certain elements of the unconscious, this paper is going to take censorship as deletion of communicative bits and pieces which may be considered offensive, injurious, insightful, or awkward to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor. Censorship can also be taken as all social approaches whether by political, religious or economic systems of authority which go against spreading of ideas, information, messages or images through the appropriate channels. The US constitution provides the right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, and freedom to petition the government for a remedy of grievances through the first amendment. These gives the people the right to watch or say whatever they please when they feel like as long as it does not interfere with a second person. There have been various attempts to downplay this right by censoring some things like books, movies, music, opinions, ideas, and literature. It is now evident that the right to free speech is a longstanding U.S. tradition, but actual respect for the right to free speech is not (Muller, 2004).

In ancient societies like Israel and China censorship was considered a tool for regulating political and moral life of the society. Due to the different rationales for censorship, there are variety forms of it. Moral censorship is the widely known form of censorship. It seeks to eliminate morally obscene or questionable material out of the society. Pornography is the best example of this form of censorship. Political censorship comes into play when a government fabricates the political news to the news outlets. Fabrication can be done by either concealing, or falsifying the information to suppress or enhance the public reaction. Most governments are involved in political censorship to create good images to its citizens. Religion is also a tool used for censorship. There comes at times in some places where freedom of expression is put on check using the religious teachings and religious authority. In this case views against or not favoring the religion or not supported by the religion doctrines are censored. The censorship is justified on the grounds of blasphemy, sinfulness, heresy and sacrilege. Examples of this form of censorship include the censor imposed by the Vatican on the support of heliocentric theory. In the recent past there have been cases of corporations or wealthy individuals with economic power silencing or filtering opinions that they consider injurious to their economic niche. Corporate censorship is made effective by the threats for loss of employment, monetary loss in business deal or loss of market for the goods. Examples include large companies raiding law suite to stop the publishing of research material not favorable to their line of business. Military censorship is where by the military operation right from training to military intelligence is kept a secret from the other countries. In some countries only their nationals are recruited into the army. Maintaining military intelligence is essential to avoid espionage by the enemy. Other forms of censorship that have become popular are censorship on music and film industry, book censorship, media censorship and internet censorship. However these forms of censorship usually draw single reason or a combination of reasons from the first four forms of censorship (Muller, 2004).

An interesting area on censorship is the movie industry. Debate on the moral ability of the motion picture industry led to the establishment of The New York Board of Motion Picture Censorship in 1909. It quickly gained influence across New York boarders with most filmmakers agreeing to submit their work for review and making sure all their production were satisfied by the board. Having acquired a national outfit and regional importance it changed its name into National Board of Censorship and later in1915 it acquired The National Board of Review. As a legal requirement the films were required to have the seal of approval to act as a quasi self-regulation. In 1914, as a result of raised public concern on the decency, quality, propriety, and taste of the movies being produced the congress introduced three bills to establish Federal Motion Picture Censorship Commission. Through these bills they wanted to establish no issuance of copyright for any film that did not have the certificate and seal of the commission. This bill did not become law and it did not go well with powerful religious groups and concerned groups and they decided to use the Supreme Court which declared state of censorship of motion pictures constitutional. Several states, cities and towns across the country formed their own movie censorship board to control what their communities would watch. Almost a third of America movie lovers had their regional movie censors. There were no standard regulations and this led to varied levels of censorships and at times total banning of movies. Movie producers and distributors decided to harmonize this differences through the formation of a union called The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). The MPPDA policies were to facilitate self regulation by providing standards on movie contents, settlement, promote intra-industry relations and form a negotiating body with government. Moral content of the movies was being regulated by Hay Office. All the issues that had been raised by religious leaders and concerned parties were collected and critically analyzed to come up with the list of "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" for guiding movie production. The Don’ts include 11 objectionable topics while 26 other which were to be handled with care. The studio compliance aspect was relaxed since out of total 572 films submitted to the various censorship boards in 1928, only 42 passed review safe and sound. The coming of talking pictures prompted the modification of the guidelines for the language to be used in the movies. Indecency and immorality of Hollywood’s movies and actors triggered threats from church groups gave to campaign for federal bylaw for this industry (Trumpbour, 2007).

In 1930 Hay Office came up with The Motion Picture Production Code appointing a jury (3 members of MPPDA) to make sure all films were of good quality as per the code. The problems seem never to end since determining the code was subjective and raised several challenges to the code. Angered by the continued new moral lows as the productions went on, the Catholic Church through its bishops formed The Legion of Decency that were to evaluate content of the movie and advise its congregation. There were several movie boycotts by the believers leading to the establishment of the Production Code Administration (PCA) headed by a catholic reformer. PCA had the powers to delete morally ill scenes both from the scripts before production and after production. Movies that passed the PCA code were given a certificate as a nod to be distributed and shown in big cinemas (Trumpbour, 2007).

There was an interesting case of violation of these regulations by Howard Hughes. His movie The Outlaw (1943) was rejected by the PDA citing over exposure of Russell’s mammary; it had 37 shots to be redone. After several appeals and little of editing he was issued with the certificate. He shelved the movie for sometime and later released the rejected original version to the market. Interestingly the banned version was a big success undermining the set guidelines (Trumpbour, 2007).

The rules of the PCA made business low for movies with competition from other quarters including other countries. The Supreme Court made a major impact on the effect of the PCA by overturning its earlier ruling of banning the Italian Movie “The Miracle”. The Miracle had been banned in New York but it was reinstated, the ruling stated that freedom of expression included expression by means of motion pictures. This was followed by the 1953 Otto Preminger’s The Moon is Blue which despite being without the seal, rejected by the Legion of Decency it was successful. This made the PCA relax its rule to meet the demand of the market and resignation of Breen. The PCA under Geoffrey Shurlock, eventually agreed controversial subjects such as miscegenation, drug addiction, abortion, and childbirth. In 1968 the Motion Picture Production Code was replaced by the movie classification system assigning ratings general viewing (G), parental guidance (PG), parental guidance 3 years (PG–13), R, or NC–17. These are just cautionary warnings to guide parents of what to expect (Bernstein, 2000)

According to Couvares (2006), 1980-1992, twelve years of the republican rule were the years with most movie censorship cases. He attributes the cases to political power struggle. He points out that the marginalized groups: women, gay, Asian Americans, lesbians and Christians say that scores on culture differences were settled in the movie industry. The conservatives (supporters of Ronald Reagan) were taking this as an opportunity to restore the traditional family values in the movie industry. 1980 had controversial movies the feminists were against Dressed to Kill, Asian Americans found year of the Dragon as offensive and the homosexuality were against Basic Instinct. Other censored or challenged movies include If You Love This Planet and the Last Temptation of Christ.

An interesting development in the Thailand was the cabinet approval of the regulations on censorship of films and ratings. The regulations classified movies into educational movies that the public should be encouraged to watch, general public viewing movies, movies for audiences between 13 and 14 years of age, those appropriate for 15 years and above, movies for 18 years and older generations, movies that are prohibited for ages below 20 and the banned movies. The banned movies are composed of movies with strong sexual language, images of violence and politically biased movies (Lewis 2006).

This paper has discussed the different types of censorships, the facts that bring them to play and narrowed down to the movie censorship. Negative as it may be portrayed censorship has is own advantages and disadvantages. Freedom of expression much as it is a right, the controls for the right are held with very few people in the society. It is not yet clear the boundaries of where movie ratings end and the start of censorship

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