Monday, April 4, 2011

How to Subvert Censorship
By Doug Hewitt

Censorship takes many forms, but news is typically a big target .Censorship has become a hot topic around the world. In China, Google is threatening to leave the country. In Iran, news has to get smuggled out via cell phone videos. While some countries take pride in the freedom of the press, other countries view censorship as a method to remain in power.

But what is censorship? It's the suppression of free speech, and it doesn't have to be of the government variety. Some speech can be censored based on social norms. For example, newspapers typically don't print letters to the editor that contain profanity. These newspapers censor such letters. On the other hand, profanity can certainly be found on the Internet. It's not censored by some governments.

At high school graduations, there have been cases in which valedictory speeches have been censored. And when students read their speeches anyway, they are threatened with retraction of their diplomas by school officials who argue that students are expected to follow codes of conduct. Parents have certainly been known to censor their children. "Shut up," can be an effective form of censorship for an authoritative parent. However, as children grow into teenagers, the "shut up" may lose its efficacy.

While it may be easy to condemn censorship by the governments of Iran and China, there are other forms of censorship in more complicated situations where lives are at stake. For example, in 2005 a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, despite opposition to what hard-line Muslims viewed as blasphemy. The publication of the cartoons led to attempts on the life of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and violence at Danish embassies around the world. Some newspapers refused to publish the cartoon, effectively censoring it, as an editorial decision.

If you believe in free speech and the power of democracy, there are ways in which you can subvert censorship. Censorship can take many forms, and the actions to subvert the suppression may depend on the form of censorship. But there are steps everyone can take to promote free speech.

Step 1

A tape recorder may not be the newest technology, but it's very portable!Get the latest in electronic recording and transmitting gadgetry. In countries such as Iran and China, the government may be effective in censoring online outlets such as YouTube, but there have been attempts by Twitter to get around the censorship. Cell phone videos from Iran escaped the country to be broadcast worldwide. By helping the people of these countries possess the latest electronic technologies, they can be helped to stay a step ahead of the governments. Mobile electronic recording devices can also be taken out of the country for broadcast, thereby taking an end-run around the government's censorship.

Step 2
Go underground. Let's face it: standing in a government square and shouting out your negative opinion of the authoritative regime is likely to land you in jail. If you're in high school or college, writing a column that is against editorial guidelines isn't likely to get published. In these situations, the censorship can be bypassed by going underground. There have been many underground school papers over the years, some of them becoming quite popular. In some ways, this is the opposite of getting the latest electronic technologies. This is going the paper route. While governments and schools can track down and block electronic submissions, they will find it more difficult to track down an issue of "The Weekly Underground Opinion" that is sitting on a coffee shop table.

Step 3
Take small steps. Instead of going all out in with an in-your-face speech that confronts authority, whether it's a government or a school board, push the boundaries in small steps. In some ways, this is the way that Hollywood went. The scenes of intimacy are certainly more explicit today than were allowed in the past. So, at first show a little leg, and move on from there. Before you know it, we have a rating system in which explicit scenes are not censored, they're just rated so that everyone knows what's in them. So, take small steps in the subversion process. Remember that every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For example, you could start a legitimate radio station, then slowly evolve with greater expressions of free speech and more robust opinions.

Step 4
Challenge authority. Use caution with this step, as it can be dangerous, depending on your situation. People living in a country with a legitimate legal system can make legal challenges to censorship. If the case doesn't go in your favor, appeal the decision. Bring another legal challenge to a variation of the censorship. This can have the effect of whittling away at the power of censorship. However, if you're in China, standing in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, this form of challenging authority can have deadly effects.

Step 5
If you don't speak up, there'll be no one to listen.Speak up and recruit. In some cases, nobody knows the boundaries of censorship. If people are silent, censorship wins. If you speak up, maybe not everyone will hear, but some people will. Although the immediate results of Tiananmen Square were horrendous for some participants, some would argue that it started a movement that continues to this day--the subversion of censorship and the striving for freedoms. Situations may demand that you recruit others to your ideas. Talk to a few people at first, making your case. Then bring others into the fold. If your ideas and opinions are well-founded and the truth of them is apparent, you should have no trouble convincing others that you're right. Getting them to stand up with you and express those opinions may be more difficult, but consider a college campus in which every single student stands up to a particular form of censorship. The people will win, or at least a bargain will be made with the students, thereby undermining the censorship.