Censorship now and then
Italy is amongst the lowest ranked of EU member states in media freedom indices. However it was whilst being in China last week, blocked from accessing the likes of Facebook, Twitter and various blogs, that I was acutely aware of being censored. That, and the fact I was with a new client on a global programme.
Censorship, the control of information and ideas circulated within a society, formally existed in ancient Rome. There the office of censor conducted the census of the Roman citizens. And regulated the morals of those counted and classified. Continuing throughout history, censorship has been used as a powerful tool to limit freedom of speech and expression. Governments, media, religious institutions, corporates and ourselves suppress and alter what is said and written. Covertly or overtly.
As human beings we are social by nature. And inevitably through our communication and interaction, we impact on each other. Censorship is justified in terms of serving the common good. Of keeping us safe. Or maintaining harmony and society stability. And of upholding ideology. We justify it in business to conform to the expectations of the market and maintain competitive advantage. As leaders, we withhold information under the premise of ‘privilege’ or ‘confidentiality’. And we self-censor for reasons of self preservation. To make sure we are not thrown out of the relationship. Or the programme. Even the group, the company or the clan.
The danger of self censorship
And it is perhaps this self censorship, our own silence borne of ignorance or fear, is what we should be most concerned with. After all it is something we have control over. The cumulative effect of our individual willingness to be sleep walking unquestioning citizens, remaining unaware of ourselves and what is happening in society, ensures we blindly accept these justifications for censorship. And thereby limit true open democratic discourse. We stymie intellectual academic thought. And close off to really connecting and having meaningful conversations and relationships.
Only we can release ourselves from our own ignorance. From Socrates to Snowden, there are examples of individuals challenging self censorship for the greater contribution to society. We must, as Socrates said, ‘know thyself’ and explore what censorship means to us. Why, when and how we self censor and the impact it has. We need to understand our patterns. Question our assumptions. And work at our boundaries. Make courageous choices.
Studies have suggested that those who are relatively more willing to self-censor tend to be relatively lower in self esteem and argumentativeness. And are more self conscious. And yet, we don’t have to share everything. Wisdom is to know what is appropriate. As Sally reminded Harry, “you’re going to have to try and find a way of not expressing every feeling that you have, every moment that you have them”. Perhaps we can turn to rightful speech to guide us. Is it true? Is it helpful?
Through enhancing our awareness and developing our emotional intelligence we can begin to challenge our self censorship. To understand when it serves us and others. And when it doesn’t.
Feel free to share.
Or feel free not to share.
- Reference to Italy: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/08/italys-free-expression-hamstrung-by-lack-of-media-plurality/
- On censorship: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/; www.freedomhouse.org; http://gilc.org/speech/osistudy/censorship/
- Reference to studies on self censorship: Hayes, A. F., Glynn, C. J., Shanahan, J., & Uldall. (2003, May). Individual differences in willingness to self-censor. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Nashville, TN. AND Hayes, A. F., Glynn, C. J., & Shanahan, J. (2005a). Willingness to self-censor: A construct and measurement tool for public opinion research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 17, 299-323. http://www.afhayes.com/willingness-to-self-censor.html
- Line from movie “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
- Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash