Political censorship

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Political censorship exists when a government attempts to conceal, fake, distort, or falsify information that its citizens receive by suppressing or crowding out political news that the public might receive through news outlets. In the absence of neutral and objective information, people will be unable to dissent with the government or political party in charge. The term also extends to the systematic suppression of views that are contrary to those of the government in power. The government often possesses the power of the army and the secret police, to enforce the compliance of journalists with the will of the authorities to spread the story that the ruling authorities want people to believe. At times this involves bribery, defamation, imprisonment, and even assassination.

The word censorship comes from the Latin word censor, the job of two Romans whose duty was to supervise public behaviour and morals, hence 'censoring' the way people acted.

Journalist prison census[edit]

According to the 2008 prison census by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the world's biggest jailers of journalists are:[1]

  1. People's Republic of China
  2. Cuba
  3. Burma
  4. Eritrea
  5. Uzbekistan

Overview of political censorship[edit]

Nikolai Yezhov, the man to the right of Joseph Stalin was shot in 1940. He was edited out from the photo by Soviet censors.[2] Such retouching was a common occurrence during Stalin's reign.

Over the course of history, many nations and political organisations have utilised political censorship and propaganda in order to manipulate the public. The Ancien régime, for example, is well known for having implemented censorship.

In 1851, Napoleon III declared himself emperor. The wealthier citizens immediately saw in him a way to protect their privileges, that were put in danger by the French Revolution of 1848, which threatened to re-organise the social hierarchy. This was a time when all sorts of cultural productions was censored, from newspapers to plays.[3]

Independent journalism did not exist in the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev became its leader; all reporting was directed by the Communist Party. Pravda, the predominant newspaper in the Soviet Union, had a near-monopoly. Foreign newspapers were available only if they were published by Communist Parties sympathetic to the Soviet Union.

The Cuban media is operated under the supervision of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which "develops and coordinates propaganda strategies".[4]

In 1973, a military coup took power in Uruguay, and the state employed censorship. For example, writer Eduardo Galeano was imprisoned and later was forced to flee. His book Open Veins of Latin America was banned by the right-wing military government, not only in Uruguay, but also in Chile and Argentina.[5]

Many countries' campaign finance laws restrict speech on candidates and political issues. In Citizens United v. FEC, the United States Supreme Court found that many such restrictions are an unconstitutional form of censorship.



In the Republic of Singapore, Section 33 of the Films Act bans of the making, distribution and exhibition of "party political films", at pain of a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years. The Act further defines a "party political film" as any film or video

(a) which is an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body; or
(b) which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore

In 2001, the short documentary called A Vision of Persistence on opposition politician J. B. Jeyaretnam was also banned for being a "party political film". The makers of the documentary, all lecturers at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, later submitted written apologies and withdrew the documentary from being screened at the 2001 Singapore International Film Festival in April, having been told they could be charged in court. Another short documentary called Singapore Rebel by Martyn See, which documented Singapore Democratic Party leader Dr Chee Soon Juan's acts of civil disobedience, was banned from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival on the same grounds and See is being investigated for possible violations of the Films Act.

This law, however, is often disregarded when such political films are made supporting the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Channel NewsAsia's five-part documentary series on Singapore's PAP ministers in 2005, for example, was not considered a party political film.

Exceptions are also made when political films are made concerning political parties of other nations. Films such as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 are thus allowed to screen regardless of the law.


Government agencies in Singapore have been known to use or threaten to use litigation against bloggers and other Internet content providers. The first instance of such activity was against Sintercom in July 2001 when the founder, Dr Tan Chong Kee was asked to register the website under the nascent Singapore Broadcast Authority Act (now Media Development Authority). Dr Tan chose to shutdown Sintercom due to concerns over the ambiguity of the Act. In April 2005, a blogger, Chen Jiahao, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was made to apologise and shut down his blog containing criticisms on government agency A*STAR, after its chairman Philip Yeo threatened to sue for defamation. In September 2005, 3 people were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments on the Internet. Two were sentenced to imprisonment.[6] Later, the Teachers' Union announced that it is offering legal assistance to teachers who want to take legal action against students who defame them on their blogs, after five students from Saint Andrew's Junior College were suspended for three days for allegedly "flaming" two teachers and a vice-principal on their blogs.[7]


  1. ^ "CPJ's 2008 prison census: Online and in jail". 
  2. ^ The Commissar vanishes (The Newseum)
  3. ^ COSTA, Iná Camargo (2001) Political Theater in Brazil. Trans/Form/Ação [online], vol.24, n.1 [cited 2011-12-25], pp. 113-120. Available in: link. ISSN 0101-3173. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0101-31732001000100008.
  4. ^ "10 most censored countries". The Committee to Protect Journalists. 
  5. ^ http://www.democracynow.org/2009/5/28/eduardo
  6. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005", The United States Department of State. Retrieved 20 March 2006.
  7. ^ "Schools act against students for 'flaming' teachers on blogs", The Straits Times, page 1, 27 September 2005, by Sandra Davie and Liaw Wy-Cin.