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Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one's own work (blog, book(s), film(s), or other means of expression), out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities of others, without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority. Self-censorship is often practiced by film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, journalists, musicians, and other kinds of authors.
In authoritarian countries, creators of artworks may remove material that their government might find controversial for fear of sanction by their governments. In pluralistic capitalist countries repressive judicial lawmaking can also cause widespread "rivercrabbing" of Western media. Self-censorship can also occur, particularly in order to conform to the expectations of the market. For example, the editor of a periodical may consciously or unconsciously avoid topics that will anger advertisers or a parent company in order to protect her or his livelihood. This phenomenon is referred to as soft censorship.
News media are often accused of self-censorship because such media can face serious backlash for controversial reporting. On following this public demand, news media have been accused of "not taking any risks." For example, certain organizations (Media Matters for America, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Democracy Now!, and the American Civil Liberties Union) have raised concerns about news broadcasting stations (notably Fox News) censoring their own content to be less controversial when reporting on the War on Terror. However, this is not always attributed to self-censorship; there have been attempts by the authorities to pressure news organizations to withhold particular public information in the name of security.
In their work Manufacturing Consent (1988), Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman argue that corporate ownership of news media very strongly encourages systematic self-censorship owing to market forces. In this argument, even with supposedly liberal media, bias and (often unconscious) self-censorship is evident in the selection and omission of news stories, and the framing of acceptable discussion, in line with the interests of the corporations owning those media.
There have also been instances, beginning with the Gulf War and continuing in subsequent conflicts, where journalists have actively sought censorship advice from military authorities in order to prevent the inadvertent revelation of military secrets. In 2009, The New York Times succeeded in suppressing news of a reporter's abduction by militants in Afghanistan for seven months until his escape from captivity in order to 'reduce danger to the reporter and other hostages'.
Journalists have sometimes self-censored publications of news stories out of concern for the safety of people involved. Jean Pelletier, the Washington D.C. correspondent for the Montreal La Presse newspaper, uncovered a covert attempt by the Canadian government to smuggle US diplomats out of Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis before this so-called "Canadian Caper" had reached its conclusion. In order to preserve the safety of those involved, he refused to allow the paper to publish the story until the hostages had left Iran, despite the considerable news value to the paper and writer.
There is also a culture of self-censorship in politics. This is especially acute in authoritarian regimes, and can be observed in the former Soviet Republics, as well as in many of the most regimented Asian regimes. James Gomez writes about this phenomenon in his book Self-Censorship: Singapore's Shame. He argues that citizens and foreigners in Singapore practice self-censorship that results in the censorship of others when it comes to political matters. This illustrates a more general phenomenon: that "self-censorship," when practiced by those having influence in the public sphere, results in an interference with democratic discourse that affects the free expression of persons and entities other than those who are presumed by the term to be censoring only themselves.
"Self-censorship" can also be found in scientific publications. Sometimes, a scientist can feel discouraged from releasing her or his findings because of a popular ideology or political agenda. Examples of self-censorship in scientific publications that have been criticized as politically motivated include scientists under the Third Reich withholding findings that disagreed with the commonly held beliefs in differences between races, or the refusal of these scientists under Hitler to support General Relativity (which got the reputation as "Jewish science"). More recently, certain scientists have withheld their findings related to climate changes caused by pollution and to endangered species.
Professor Heinz Klatt argues that hate laws, speech codes, cowardice, and political correctness have resulted in an intellectually repressive atmosphere in modern day academic circles, with widespread self-censorship on topics like homosexuality, (learning) disabilities, Islam, and genetic differences between human races and sexes.
Taste and decency
Taste and decency are other areas in which questions are often raised regarding self-censorship. Art or journalism involving images or footage of murder, terrorism, war and massacres may cause complaints as to the purpose to which they are put. Curators and editors will frequently censor these images to avoid charges of prurience, shock tactics or invasion of privacy. When the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, for example, was interviewed regarding his decision to whitewash an antiwar mural showing dollar-draped military coffins, he speculated that the mural would have offended the community in which it was placed. He then added that "there were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away," a comment that practically defines the present topic.
In management and engineering, group think exists regarding matters of taste as they affect what products are acceptable for use by the public, but is not usually recognized as such.
Self-censorship is an important issue with the on-line news resources on which large parts of Wikipedia depend, and is one of the justifications for including an "accessdate" with every link. It is taken for granted that articles on blogs can be seamlessly re-edited after people have read them, because the standard software allows it. However, since the archives of news stories held at online news sites such as BBC News or New York Times are under the control of the publisher, there is a strong temptation to withdraw or entirely delete all references to an informative article when its presence is perceived to be harmful to that publisher's (or its parent company's) reputation or commercial interests.
Examples include The Guardian's withdrawal of its extended interview of Noam Chomsky in 2005 which seen as a smear by his admirers such as the Media Lens group while the apology he received and the article's removal were viewed as "spineless" act by historian Marko Attila Hoare, one of Chomsky's critics. Another such incident would be the deletion of a December 21, 2006 Op-Ed piece in the New York Sun which had been written by British journalist Daniel Johnson.
Sometimes the old article is available in search engine caches. The website News Sniffer attempts to detect all changes that occur in the articles by regularly downloading articles and comparing with older copies.
- Bleep censor
- International Freedom of Expression Exchange
- OB marker — the limits of expression in Singapore
- Jayson Blair
- List of songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks
- Scieno Sitter
- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
- Overton window
- Steven Swinford (23 May 2011). "Ryan Giggs: from golden boy to tarnished idol". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
- Media Matters for America: 33 internal Fox editorial memos reviewed by MMFA reveal
- FAIR: Censorship
- Jeanne Meserve (June 29, 2005). "Milk-threat study issued over objections". CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Vintage, 1994, ISBN 0-09-953311-1
- JASON STRAZIUSO (June 20, 2005). "New York Times reporter escapes Taliban captivity". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-06-20.[dead link]
- Ayaz Nanji (February 11, 2005). "Scientific Method: Self-Censorship, Study Finds Researchers Shy Away From Controversial Projects". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- Julie Cart (February 10, 2005). "U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings". Los Angeles Times. p. A-13. Retrieved 2008-09-27.[dead link]
- Daniel Schorn (July 30, 2006). "Rewriting The Science, Scientist Says Politicians Edit Global Warming Research". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- Heinz Klatt (October 27, 2006). "Self-censorship the bane of academic life". The Gazette (University of Western Ontario). Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- Finkel, Jori (2010-12-15). "Museum of Contemporary Art commissions, then paints over, artwork". The Los Angeles Times.
- "Smearing Chomsky - The Guardian In The Gutter". medialens. November 4, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- "Corrections and clarifications". The Guardian. November 17, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
- Marko Attila Hoare "Chomsky’s Genocidal Denial", FrontPage magazine, 23 November 2005