Television and Media Essay - Dangers of Censorship


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Dangers of Censorship

 

Imagine yourself as a journalist today who is frozen and wakes up in the United States 100 years from now.  The country has changed quite a bit from what you remember.  Technology has definitely advanced, language seems to have evolved a bit, and nothing looks the same, except fashion.  Due to a recent trend that brought back the 90's you are strangely up on the recent fashion trends.  As you roam the streets, you try to gain a bearing on this advanced country so you pick up a newspaper.  You notice something rather peculiar about every article - the only source is the United States Government.  As you read further, you notice very little information is given at all, and the details that are given are always in favor of the government.

 

Thinking back to 1999, you remember that high school publications were already censored and college censorship was not far behind.  Could that trend have moved all the way to professional journalistic organizations?  While this is merely a fictitious projection into the future, it portrays the likely outcome of the precedents that are being set today.  If nothing is done, trends in high school and college censorship may lead to total press censorship in the United States, thus violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  This would, in turn, exterminate journalism and leave an assorted field of public relations.

 

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that "congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  A journalist, whether he or she is a writer, editor, photographer or artist, believes in this right and has an obligation to use it to inform the public.  So, the First Amendment not only protects journalists' rights to free speech, but it also protects the public's right to information.  However, the courts have begun to take away these rights.

 

It began with high school publications in 1988.  During the case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against students and gave school officials the ability to censor student publications without violating the First Amendment.  High school journalists now have the right to only print what the officials deem appropriate.

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  This basically means only the good stuff about the school will be published. Therefore, high school publications are no longer a form of journalism, but rather, an expense free form of public relations for high schools.  This is okay, though, because they are only high school students.  All they need to learn right now is how to write using proper journalistic form, right?  Preparing for an actual career as a journalist does not come until college.

 

The only problem with this is that, as of 1997, student publications at state-supported institutions of higher learning across America are threatened by censorship as well. In Kincaid v. Gibson, U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood ruled that administrators at Kentucky State University could censor the publication of a yearbook because it was of poor quality.  This ruling could set a precedent that would allow all colleges across America to censor student publications.  The goal of college is to prepare people for a career.  If the rules of professional journalists do not apply to college journalists, these students will not be prepared for the job they have ahead of them.  Students accustomed to being merely public relations agents for their college will carry this forum to professional publications and affect every citizen of the United States.   As the old saying goes, "it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks," so these professional journalists will become public relations agents for the United States Government, thus giving the public a censored version of the truth.

 

So this brings us back to you, 100 years from now.  You have the opportunity to stay.  Sure the technology is nice, but staying would mean settling with a life of frivolity.  The people here do not realize they are cheated every day by their local governments.  They do not even know their president died two years ago because the government thought that information would create chaos among the masses.  You also have the option of returning to your own time with this new knowledge and continue your life as if nothing had changed.  You know that if you go back you will have to take advantage of your dying freedom of speech to inform the public of what could happen because of censorship and increased governmental control.  So, do you go or do you stay?  Thomas Jefferson perhaps answered this question the best when he said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."



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