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Posted by on Dec 9, 2012 in Articles | 0 comments

State Censorship

State Censorship

State censorship has a long history. The origins go back to the ancient periods; for example during the time of the Roman Empire, the Senate applied a practice called “Damnatio memoriae” that targeted personalities that brought damage to the Republic. It assumed forgetting their name or prohibiting to be mentioned in any written or oral form. This application of early censorship practices would mean that a name of a traitor for instance would be forgotten and the next generations would not be aware of the perpetrator’s existence at all. During military encounters, censorship is widely applied. Basic censorship elements are: making sure information regarding the location of the troops, or any information about tactical operations is kept secret. It is worth referring to a recent example that took place on the 20th March 2011 when NATO peacemaking forces have applied air strikes on Libyan soil to demilitarize the Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime. Before the launch of the operation there was leaked information regarding the location of the jets and the flight routes. Here appears a dilemma, should this information be published by the media or not!? On one side of the coin, it is obvious that the state security and its defendant’s integrity is always a priority, which is why the media outlets should apply self-­‐ censorship and be selective in publishing sensible information. The other side of the coin is that a military operation is supported from the government’s money, which is sourced from the taxpayer – that is why the public would be entitled to be informed about state planned military actions. Most of the times for a high cause and for countries’ benefit and its citizens – state censorship application is fundamental.

It is a wide known fact that during the World War I the British soldiers that kept in touch with their relatives – and had their correspondence censored by the army generals. On the one hand such a practice might be characterized as an infringement of a persons right for expression and correspondence; on the other hand -­‐ that was a needed measure because any leaked information would have had affected the outcome of a certain military operation. The application of censorship could be excused just in extraordinary cases such as keeping the secrecy of the operations while fighting the Nazis during the WWII, or causes of similar importance.1

There are contemporary examples when states ruled by dictators are applying hard-­‐core censorship techniques. It is the case of Iran and North Korea. According to a report, released by the Committee to Protect Journalists published on the 12th of May 2012 “The government of Iran uses mass imprisonment of journalists as a means of silencing dissent and quashing critical news coverage. Since 2009, a once-robust reformist media has been battered by a government onslaught that has included the banning of publications and the mass arrests and imprisonments of journalists on anti state charges. Imprisoned journalists are subject to horrible conditions including solitary confinement, physical abuse, and torture; families of journalists are also intimidated and harassed in a bid to keep them silent. Iranian authorities maintain one of the world’s toughest Internet censorship regimes, blocking millions of websites, including news and social networking sites; using sophisticated techniques to detect interference with anti-censorship programs; and intimidating reporters via social networks. The regime also frequently jams satellite signals, particularly that of the BBC Persian-language service. Lowlight: The regime has particularly targeted the BBC, especially since the 2009 disputed presidential elections, when the BBC Persian-language service extensively covered protesters describing abuse by security forces. Relatives and friends of BBC staff members have been arrested, questioned, or intimidated. Tehran has jammed BBC satellite signals, and the broadcaster reported a “sophisticated cyber-attack” on its email and Internet services that coincided with efforts to jam its satellite feeds into Iran.”2 (CPJ, 2012: 6)

The case of North Korea also bears similarities: “Nearly all the content of North Korea’s 12 main newspapers, 20 periodicals, and broadcasters comes from the official Korean Central News Agency and focuses on the political leadership’s statements and supposed activities. Ruling elites have access to the World Wide Web, but the public is limited to a heavily monitored and censored network with no connections to the outside world. While The Associated Press opened a Pyongyang bureau in January 2012 staffed with North Koreans, the AP wasn’t granted its own Internet connection and the correspondents have no secure line of communication. A Japan-based media support group, Asiapress, has been giving North Korean volunteers journalism training and video cameras to record daily life in the North. Downloaded onto DVDs or memory sticks, the images are smuggled across the porous border with China and then sent to Japan for broader distribution. Only small numbers of foreign journalists are generally allowed limited access to the country each year, and they must be accompanied everywhere by minders.

Lowlight: KCNA’s official version of Kim Jong Il’s death said he died on December 19, 2011, of heart failure while traveling by train because of a “great mental and physical strain” during a “highintensity field inspection.” Subsequent analysis of official pronouncements indicates that, wherever he was, Kim most likely died on December 17, and the news was delayed to allow officials to sort out problems of succession.”3 (CPJ, 2012: 5) The practice of censoring the information of a leaders death could be compared to a similar activity during Medieval times when a King’s death would be kept secret until an “appropriate” successor to the throne would be found. In conclusion I would like to mention that there are three paths in dealing with the application of censorship for state security aims. The first one would be a hard-core censorship applied by dictatorial regimes of countries such as Eritrea, Iran or North Korea. These practices are not acceptable because they actively infringe fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and personal integrity. The second path would be a moderate application of censorship that might be the case of a NATO peacemaking operation that would target an enemy for example. The media outlets should be selective on which piece of information should be published before the launch of this kind of military activity. This is important for a successful outcome; any sensitive information in the hands of the enemy would be detrimental. The last example would be a total avoidance of censorship, which is more of an utopia. That is not possible in any contemporary context and therefore there is no need for a further exploration of the concept.

Branigan, T. (2012). China’s censors tested by microbloggers who keep one step ahead of state
media. Available:
Last accessed 15th Oct 2012.
Goldsworthy, S. Morris, T. (2008). PR- A Persuasive Industry?: Spin, Public Relations and the Shaping
of the Modern Media. London: Palgrave.
Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate The World. New York: Penguin Books.
Owen, M. (1991). State Activism and State Censorship. Faculty Scholarship Series. 100 (2087).
Sweeney, B. (2012). 10 Most Censored Countries. Available:
countries.php#runners-up. Last accessed 15th Oct 2012.

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