Censorship, diversity, dignity and equal rights


This paper argues on the basis of international law and conceptual analysis that diversity, if balanced by equality of basic rights, is both intrinsically and instrumentally good, from a Kantian-normative standpoint. The moral and (to some extent) legal imperative is to support diversity and to minimize selection/elimination and censorship.

Hard censorship comprises prohibition, law enforcement, violence against communicators, including killing, torture, detention, threats, fines, and extortion. It is usually carried out by states and other monopolies on violence.

Soft censorship consists of editorial rejection, deletion of posts, accounts, and content editing, but no penalties beyond that. It is now typically carried out by privately-owned, profit-seeking companies.

Self-censorship is perhaps the most pervasive of all. We stop ourselves from sharing, writing, saying, remembering or even thinking things, largely because of learned mechanisms. Many of these mechanisms are unconscious, taken over from previous generations, from authorities, employers, peers, and the media. But the author her- or himself is ultimately responsible.

In this sense, censorship is pervasive and fundamental. It seems as inevitable as selection/elimination in evolution; and it relates to diversity similarly. Media diversity is like genetic and behavioral variation. Only a few make it in nature, and only a few, apparently, make it in culture. Media contents, media personalities, ideas and organizations are like genes, organisms and species. Most are ruthlessly weeded out.

Inevitably? No, in both cases it is usually difficult, but human beings can have a say in what gets selected and saved, and what gets eliminated.

In general, the more censorship there is, the less media diversity there will be. But there are exceptions. If we allow radical hate speech, this can, in the long term, lead to less diversity, through the establishment of a government led by an emboldened radical hate group, such as in the early 1930s liberal Germany. It is widely agreed today that intolerance must not be tolerated. Forms of “marginal” censorship, in order to safeguard diversities, especially the most vulnerable targets, against attacks by the intolerant, the hateful, and the reckless, are apparently necessary. Therefore, not even hard censorship can be abolished. But, like selection/elimination, it can be reduced and minimized.

Even in the most liberal countries, incitement to violence, hate speech and other contents, such as child pornography or advertisement for forbidden products and services, are subject to legal censorship. The more fine-tuned and well-balanced this system of censorship is, the less it will interfere in communication and the better it will safeguard cultural diversity. Thus, a wise constellation of censorships, including also soft and self-censorship, may contribute to more diversity overall.

In principle, nevertheless, diversity needs to be balanced by dignity and equal rights. In liberal, capitalist societies, especially ownership and sponsorship filters (Herman & Chomsky, 1988) also greatly limit media diversity. Therefore, restrictions on concentration of media ownership and support for messages without commercial sponsorship are also necessary. Unwise, insensitive, and oppressive censorship, i.e. the majority of instances of censorship so far, however, lead to less cultural and media diversity.