Some people think of American media as freewheeling — free of restraints or rules — maybe even cheerfully irresponsible about the money they make.
But, are media actually free spirits without restraints? I think not. Ask any media manager and you will hear a litany of rules and regulations and ethics codes that constrain media and restrict the scope and extent of media activities.
Sure, there is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees free speech and free press. But then there are risks to public safety, national security, personal injury, damage to reputations, privacy intrusions, closed and open meetings, the Freedom of Information Act, gag orders, shield laws, copyright, broadcast regulation,. children’s TV, pornography, deceptive advertising, and on and on.
Lots of questions get in the way of pure freedom.
What is freedom of the press?
It’s permission to communicate and express yourself through print and electronic media. Freedom of the press implies the absence of government interference as you report information you have gathered, collected and prepared for delivery to a mass audience.
Of course, a government may determine which of its information resources should be made public and which should be protected from disclosure to the public. Information can be classified as sensitive or secret or otherwise protected from disclosure to protect the national interest.
On the other hand, governments typically subject themselves to sunshine laws or freedom of information rules that define the public interest.
And censorship…what is that?
It’s suppression of speech or the deletion of information considered by a censor to be objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government.
There are several types of censorship:
- Political censorship when
governments hold back information from the public to exert control and
prevent free expression that might lead to rebellion.
- Military censorship keeps
military intelligence and tactics confidential. Sometimes, the military
will suppress politically inconvenient information.
- Corporate censorship when corporate media editors
disrupt dissemination of information that portrays their business
- Moral censorship removes obscene or morally questionable information. Pornography is an example.
- Religious censorship removes material objectionable to a certain faith.
What about Internet censorship?
Internet censorship suppresses information much like offline censorship.
It’s important to note that national borders are crossed more readily online. People in a country that bans information can find it on websites hosted outside their country. Thus, total censorship of information on the Internet is very difficult to achieve.
What about prior restraint?
It’s the legal term for censorship when a government prevents information from reaching the public. Prior restraint keeps materials from being published.
It’s prior restraint when a person has to obtain a government license to publish anything. Prior restraint would be seen in a court injunction or a government order prohibiting the publication of a specific document.
Usually, it’s a legal order from a court preventing publicizing information or making comments. Gag orders often turn up in lawsuits and criminal trials.
A criminal court judge might impose a gag order on media if she believes future trail jurors could be influenced by speculation at the early stages of a case.
I Am Curious Yellow, a 1969 film banned
Banned in Boston
To say something is Banned in Boston is a joke today, but the idea originated a hundred years ago as a serious description of a book, play or movie prohibited from distribution or exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts. At the time, Boston city government officials took upon themselves the authority to ban works featuring what they thought of as having objectionable content. Usually they banned works with profanity or sexual content.
Sometimes today media become banned for one reason or the other. Banning something isn’t always a legal move, but just an expression of concern by a group. Take a look at these lists: