Counter-productive censorship
Nigel Warburton: Counter-productive censorship
07 Jun 10

In Bangladesh a pro-opposition Bengali-language newspaper Amar Desh has been closed down, allegedly because of publishing irregularities. Reports suggest that more than 200 police stormed the paper’s offices. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that the content and stance of the newspaper might have been what is at issue here.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, who is Italy’s largest media owner, is backing a draft bill that could imprison or impose heavy fines on journalists who report public interest stories that involve wire taps before the final phase of prosecution. Given the length of many trials, this is a serious block on some kinds of reporting.

Curbing the powers of journalists to report information in the public interest either by direct or indirect means is a significant assault on free speech and on the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Remove their power to criticise government policy or to expose some types of corruption, and journalists risk becoming organs of propaganda for the ruling party.

If Machiavelli were writing his guidelines for conscienceless princes today, then he would no doubt advocate scaring journalists into cowering submission, making them terrified to publish anything critical of the ruler. Luckily, however, journalism attracts some extraordinarily brave people Anna Politkovskaya, who relentlessly exposed corruption in Putin’s Russia, and was murdered for this, is just one humbling example.

One side effect of the Internet’s invention is that today what is suppressed in one place often reappears somewhere else. In fact the more forceful the attempt to clamp down on what is published, the more likely it is that the views being suppressed will be spread widely. Would-be censors take note. You may be sowing dragon’s teeth.