Saturday, February 10, 2007
Sheila, on her blog, raised the issue of censorship. I have a slightly different take than she does. Only slightly.
About four years back I was at a Barnes and Noble and found a magazine in their "Current Affairs" section which purported to expose the secret conspiracies operating to destory us as Americans. The villains, of course, were African Americans and Jews. The magazine was basically a neo Nazi rag.
I went to the desk and complained. The woman at the counter told me central office determined control of what magazines were made available in the stores. I contacted the central office and was told that Barnes and Noble was loathe to practice censorship. I followed my initial contact with a letter writing campaign and a petition. I also threatened to enlist the aid of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The corporation pulled the magazine from their shelves.
I felt I had acted nobly. Some people wondered if I had interfered with freedom of speech.
So, the question posed is this: When is censorship, if ever, justified? In the case of Barnes and Noble, they had every right to pull the magazine. They are a private corporation and they were responding to consumer pressure. But what about Rush Limbaugh's statements directed toward Barrack Obama as a Halfrican? What about the numerous statements by radio talk show hosts, left and right wing, which are nothing more than cruel ad hominem attacks that are nothing other than slander and do nothing more than serve to polarize our country. Should we try and censor them? Should we hold them accountable in any way? Should we reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine that Ronald Reagan demolished?
I argue that freedom of speech comes with responsibility, and sometimes it carries a consequence. Sheila's major complaint in her most recent posting was that in college she felt certain professors were forced to walk on eggshells for fear of punishment for espousing views contrary to the mainstream. Perhaps some of these views dealt with homosexuality, abortion, or the use of words not accepted by the FCC. However, what if these professors were espousing views that genocide was a good thing, that the holocaust never happened, that Muslims were subhuman. What then? Should we still stand for complete and unabridged freedom of speech?
I am a writer and as such, I am quite sensitive to freedom of speech and censorship. However, freedom of speech carries with it responsibility. It is NOT always okay to say what one wants. I don't believe I have the answer to what is right and what is wrong. I believe it's a matter of each situation being taken on its own merit and in context. Do I believe Janet Jackson should be fined by the FCC to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars? Of course not. That's just right wing hypocrisy. I do believe though that we should always guard our freedom of speech and at the same time hold all accountable for what they say.
Remember, whatever freedom is given to one point of view, must be given to another point of view. And all rules should apply equally.
As a writer, I understand that from time to time my views will be challenged. Editors will shut me off. People will criticise me. It's been the plight of writers for centuries, and maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of us play it safe. Some of us challenge the status quo and accept the consequences as a badge of honor.
Posted by Stewart Sternberg at 8:03 PM