Political censorship: Big Brother's Panopticon or a Brave New World?


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Censors, the Roman officials who inspected the public behaviour in ancient Rome have come a long way through history to now being the clever and cunning censorship in the 21st century. With the emergence of censor boards for media and knowledge societies to free software and the right to information, the idea of censorship has acquired subtlety and implicit power. Today, political censorship has been established as the sole foundation for maintaining power.

In a world where information overload is quite common, censorship is a political tool to ensure loyalty and to promote the credibility of the political parties. Parties can promote stories that promote their image, while they can hold back any information that threatens their image. In this way, political censorship has always been present, be it in the art forms and inscriptions of ancient times, or the political dramas of Shakespeare to the Pravda and pro-soviet print media and Eastern Bloc media of China. 

Purpose 

The major purpose of political censorship is the promotion of propaganda against other political parties while protecting one's own party and its power. Political censorship shapes the information available to the masses which in turn shapes public perception and public opinion. Political censorship can take ugly turns as in the double standards visible in the case of Singapore media, where any video that had a political message was banned by law. However, the law was specifically applied to documentaries that promoted the opposing parties. When a prominent channel came up with a five-part documentary about the ruling party, it wasn't banned.

Techniques employed


  • Mere exposure effect:  Enhanced liking or support towards a particular person, political party or agenda upon repeated exposure through repetitive advertisement. 
  • Surrogate advertising: Advertisement of items or programs with an implicit motive to promote a particular brand.
  • Subliminal perception: Passing messages that are actually below our threshold but can tap into our level of understanding. 
  • Propaganda films
  • Siege of the press
  • Journalist prisons and other violence
  • Self-censorship by media
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Major instances involving political censorship in the modern world 

1.    Pravda: It was the official newspaper of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. In the USSR, Pravda and similar media outlets that aligned with the ideals of the party thrived well, but anything that spoke against the party or came to be some sort of a whistleblower was suppressed. 

2.    Eastern Bloc Media: The Communist party-controlled media and censorship. 

3.    The emergency of 1975, India: The emergence of a duration of 21 months between 1975 and 1977 came in a period when Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister faced several threats to her reputation. The emergency period witnessed a siege on the press and is considered to be one of the dirtiest instances of political censorship and a series of human rights violations. 

4.    Snowden case: When Edward Snowden risked his safety to become the whistleblower of the secrets of National Security Agency of the United States, the world came to know more about the surveillance programs and the five eye intelligence alliance.

5.    Pahlaj Nihalani and the CBFC: The resignation of Leela Samson from CBFC was followed by the appointment of Mr Nihalani. Nihalani ‘s new reforms were met with widespread criticism, which included harsh criticism for cutting out an intimate scene from a James Bond film, issues surrounding films like Angry Indian Goddesses, etc. Criticism against Nihalani was that his new reforms had double standards as these didn't apply to his own films such as Julie 2.

Apart from the cases listed above, in the modern world, especially in contemporary India, political censorship has evolved into self-censorship in which newspaper and other media outlets take down their stories after publishing them, especially if they have unpleasant political facts. In the past five years, we witnessed innumerable resignations of editors, Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha of Economic and Political Weekly, who resigned after an article on Adani case was taken down, Bobby Ghosh's unexpected resignation from Hindustan Times after a tenure of 14 months are a few names in the long list.

The global media watchdogs without borders report of April 2017 indicated a reduced rank for India in the International Press freedom ranking report. This was a favourite piece of news during April 2017. However, this piece of news was soon taken down by almost all media outlets including big names like Economic times and TOI. Not to mention murders like that of Gauri Lankesh, that shocked the world, political censorship is strong and pervasive in contemporary India. 

It is under this circumstance, that we as educated citizens and individuals capable of reading between the lines should pause and think critically. The politically censored, tailor-made information spoon-fed to us is reminiscent of the bagpiper's music. It's time to rethink whether to remain in the bandwagon of mice. Each one of us still has a voice and a choice. As Oprah Winfrey said “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

- Ananda Krishnan


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Political censorship: Big Brother's Panopticon or a Brave New World? Political censorship: Big Brother's Panopticon or a Brave New World? Reviewed by EMN on May 21, 2019 Rating: 5

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