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Censorship: The Semi-Myth of Freedom of Expression

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As harsh as the title of this article sounds, it is, unfortunately, the truth. Those college students who work for school papers or other literary publications learn really darn fast what they are able to say (and how) and what not to say. This, of course, extends into the real world, so it isn’t just a college issue, but it pretty much emerges there for students in . . . well, in every single department, more or less, and this is the case throughout the United States—and even beyond. As a matter of fact, censorship is a common practice prevalent throughout the world.

What are generally the reasons? Well, generally, the main reason censorship exists is that someone, or some group, quite often becomes offended by something said or how it is said. “Well, hey, if anyone is offended by what I say, that’s not my fault,” one might say. “I have a right to express my mind anyway I see fit.” Well, in theory, yes; in actuality? . . . Think again. Any publisher will tell you that responsibility is prudent when writing for public reading. Responsibility is one thing, but that term usually extends over to include preferred perspectives and attitudes. If someone is offended, quite often the threat of litigation is brought forth. Publishers, then, retract or revise statements to suit the satisfaction of a given body of readers—in order to prevent being sued. The pen is mightier than the sword? Not when it comes to the fear of losing money. The only pen that is mightier than anything is the one that signs the check (England: cheque). Does this sound gloomy? Of course it does, but the idealistic college student who is mesmerized by the concept of Freedom of Expression learns that such a freedom comes with a price, and that price is usually very high.

To be fair, though, many young college zealots have jumped-the-gun when it comes to this freedom and have printed texts or information that has, in fact, been out-of-line, such as the rumor about party A that was guilty of a crime without evidence or documentation to substantiate it. Does the lack of support for a statement mean that the rumor is true? No, but it could mean that said rumor may indeed be false, and if any false statement is printed that might blemish the reputation of a person or party, that is equivalent to slander, which is subject to legal charges.

Still, the situation can become more complicated. Even when a reporter, writer or publisher has evidence to support a statement, such a person or party to which the statement might refer has the power to insist that negative information not be printed. “B-but . . . the information is true!” one would say. Again: fear of a legal suit, which translates into the fear of losing money. The one word that sums up this type of operation: Politics!

In the end, however, Freedom of Expression does have its leeway, but it is limited. Responsibility in expression is a good and necessary thing, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but also because one has to be aware of the many dimensions surrounding the social significance of anything written. When such awareness is acquired, the Freedom of Expression is indeed a truly wonderful thing.

What is the key suggestion out of all of this? Tread very carefully . . . .


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Brandon over 9 years ago Brandon


If you are upset with the lack of freedoms on today's campuses and want to do something about it, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is here to help. Take a moment to join our Campus Freedom Network (CFN) (http://www.thecfn.org/register/) and check out our videos, podcasts and message boards. We need your help to effect change on our nation's campuses! Also, once you are signed, you can register for our first CFN conference which will be held in late June.