The freedom of information, the press and free speech is arguably an important human rights deeply rooted in the structures of democracy. Democracy, which largely derives its origin from the US, is one of the legal rights that should be provided and protected in the modern context (Goldberg, Verhulst and Prosser 207).
Under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it is a requirement that every person to have the right to freedom of expression and opinion. In addition, the First Amendment of the US constitution prohibits the state to make any law that abridges the people’s freedom of speech and free press.
The media is arguably one of the most important tools that provide people with information as well as channels for expression and making speech. As such, any law that interferes with free media amount to violation of these legal provisions. Nevertheless, some information may be harmful, objectionable, sensitive and incorrect (Goldberg, Verhulst and Prosser 209).
Media censorship has become one of the most important tools through which the government attempts to control the type of information given to the people in order to suppress harmful communication.
Although media censorship is important in avoiding the harmful effects of uncontrolled communication, the government mediated censorship on the media is too much, which amounts to violation of the right to free press, expression and communication. Arguably, there is too much censorship on the media, which keeps important information relating to current political events away from the public.
The US has been enacting laws to control the negative effects of harmful, objectionable, sensitive and politically incorrect information. While this is important for the best interest of the citizens, it is worth noting that some of the enacted laws are excessively suppressing the media.
For instance, the communications decency Act (CDA) of 1996 was enacted with an aim of regulating indecency and obscenity in cyberspace, especially when information is available for children (Wittern-Keller 56). However, the government used this act to suppress the media.
For instance, in 1997, the Supreme Court found the CDA unconstitutional in the case of Reno v. ACLU. When delivering ruling in this case, Justice Stevens held that the act was placing excessive burden on the media, which was unacceptable and unconstitutional (Nelson 88).
The government has also been attempting to suppress the media based on the claims of protecting children rights. For instance, in 1998, the US enacted the Child Online Protection Act, which restricted companies from feeding the minors with harmful materials on the internet (Wittern-Keller 79).
However, the Act was exerting too many restrictions on the free media. For instance, the Supreme Court found this act unconstitutional because it was hindering free speech among the adults, even when child protection from the information is assured.
Over the decades, the American government has used a number of ways to suppress the media through censorship. Currently, too much media censorship through federal and state laws attempts to control the information passed through press. The first amendment to the US federal constitution concerns with the protection of people’s rights to religion, speech, press and peaceful assembly.
Adopted in 1791, the First Amendment is one of the ten amendments that constitute the American Bill of Rights. One of the main purposes of a free media is to provide citizens with information about the things taking place in the government, public and corporate sectors (Gillers 279). The government’s objective of suppressing information, especially which related to political and economic sectors, amounts to violation of the two statutes.
One of the major reasons why the government tends to suppress information is to prevent public anger, which might lead to protests and insecurity. Currently, the office of the president recognizes this. For instance, the office of the president states, “the governments should not keep information confidentially just because public officer bearers might feel embarrassed or because errors and failures might be made public”.
This is an indication that the accountability cannot be achieved without proper information disclosure. The government accepts that some information is not being made public, especially in terms of public finance. The activities taking place at the Wall Street, where allegations of corporate influence on public finance offices are common, is an example of a lack of accountability through information concealing (Gillers 281).
On its part, the government attempts to conceal this kind of information to avoid public rage. In particular, the Occupy Wall Street protests were largely blamed on the excessive media involvement, which led to deviance. Thus, the government seeks to censor the media to avoid release of incorrect information, which amounts to violation of the first amendment and freedom of information act.
Noteworthy, media censorship is important to avoid sharing of the wrong information that may mislead the public. However, using laws to censor the media may lead to over-censorship, which allows only certain government approved data made public while less-attractive but true facts fail to feature in the released news.
This amounts to violation of the freedom to free press. Over-censorship is likely to make public officers hide their activities, which might be corrupt.
In the US, military censorship is an important topic of debate. It is worth noting that information relating to national security is highly sensitive. In addition, the government has the right to hold such information because it is largely a state secret. In any government, the military bears the largest burden in protecting the countries interests and boundaries against enemies.
Control of Information about the military activities is justified. Nevertheless, military censorship in the US had often led to deflection of news that reflects poorly the people in power. For instance, censorship of the media in reporting about the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was partly aimed at hiding information about America’s rogue nature, which led to an unjustified war.
In fact, a lot of information about the country’s failures in finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and many instances of torture perpetrated by American and British soldiers in Iraq has been concealed under the pretence of military censorship.
On the other hand, a number of critics argue that censorship is important to restrict rogue media from perpetrating deviance, violence and lawlessness. For instance, critics argue that unrestricted release of information, especially those portraying the people in power negatively, is likely to increase the risk of retaliations by groups or countries that are affected by the information.
For instance, the recent release of information proving that American security agencies have been eavesdropping phone conversations by foreign leaders, including the German presidency, led to bitter relations and speculations between the two nations. Thus, the media must be censored to maintain positive views about the US and enhance her relations with foreign nations, especially her allied in Europe and other regions.
In addition, after the media released Abu Ghraib photos in 2004, Muslim extremists retaliated by beheading Nicholas Berg, and American contractor. They posted the video footage on the internet to show the Americans that their actions have consequences. Arguably, this could be avoided in the media was prohibited from posting Abu Ghraib photos.
In conclusion, the debate about media censorship will remain a contentious issue as long as the country has not developed laws to differentiate between positive censorship and negative concealment of information about leaders. In fact, there must be no political influence on media censorship.
Gillers, Stephen. “A tendency to deprave and corrupt.” Washington Law Review, 85.2, (2007): 276-88. Print.
Goldberg, David, Stefaan Verhulst and Tony Prosser. Regulating the Changing Media: A Comparative Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print
Nelson, Samuel. Beyond the First Amendment: The Politics of Free Speech and Pluralism. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Print
Wittern-Keller, Laura. Freedom of the Screen: Legal Challenges to State Film Censorship, 1915–1981. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print