Censorship in Media
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." (United States Constitution 1789). Throughout the history of the United States of America, the Constitution has always been put to the test. The founders of this great country originally created the first amendment to allow colonists to speak out against the British. In the 17th century, the press was accurate and informative with little competition among journalists. But today in the 21st century the circumstances are different and the stakes are higher. Due to incredibly high amount of competition among journalists today, the information is usually exaggerated in order to capture a viewing audience.
Censorship is defined as "Policy of restricting the public expression of ideas, opinions, conceptions, and impulses, which are believed to have the capacity to undermine the governing authority or the social and moral order which authority considers itself bound to protect" (Abraham 357). Political, religious, obscenity, and censorship affecting academic freedom are all equal in their destructiveness towards free speech. "There are two different forms that censorship takes; prior, which refers to advance suppression and "post facto" which is suppression after it has been published" (Calvocoressi 10). Since the beginning of the written word, authorities have used both of these forms of censorship.
The media is everywhere you turn. You can find the media in many different forms such as television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and now on the information superhighway, the Internet. In the process of capturing ratings, who is the media hurting more? Is it the people who are accused of a crime, such as O.J. Simpson, or is it the American public’s own fault for believing everything they hear? In my view, some limitations greatly need to be placed upon the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution in regard to freedom of the press because presently the media is doing more harm than good.
The job of the media is to find the truth and tell it to the people. The media has the power to inform the public, but often the information they receive is distorted. The media has shaped our view of society and the process by which we choose our leaders, make our rules, and make up our values. The media has the power to encourage people to like or hate the government. The media promotes what it believes is easiest for the public to accept, but in the process it fails to cover the issues properly. "The media can make us wiser, fuller, sure and sweeter than we are" (Orr 61). But, the media can also cloud the public’s judgments, and cause confusion and disillusion as well.
From Churchill to Hitler to the former Soviet Union, it is quite clear that radio, television and newspapers have the power to change and make history. A clear example of the power of the media was when Orson Welles’ made his famous radio broadcast about "witnessing" the landing of a spaceship full of Martians. "America saw that the power of the media could appeal to the public easily and cause mass hysteria" (Williams 25).
Noam Chomsky, an established political thinker and magazine editor, stated in an interview in 1990: "If you follow mainstream media with great care and skepticism and approach it with the right understanding of how propaganda works, then you can learn a lot. The normal reader is fooled into believing the propaganda that they are being fed. The media shapes and selects the events and offer their biased opinions to the mass audiences." "The media modifies information to fill what they believe the public’s interest is" (Szykowny 9).
The media feels that they should act as a "watchdog." This causes many of the ethical problems among the media because they assume the responsibility of keeping a check on the government, by acting as governmental critics, governmental experts, etc. The media digs, researches, and snoops in governmental affairs, which eventually leads the media to speculate and create rumors while they are trying to expose corruption. This "watchdog" attitude of the media creates the idea that the government is evil and must constantly be checked. But according to Lisa Orr, "Nobody checks the checker" (63).
John Silber, a critic of the media in 1988 said: "The reporter’s work should be like a pane of glass, perfectly clear and unspotted, through which the reader might view the important events of the day. Today, the practice of "personal" journalism in news reporting has persistently sacrificed objectivity for entertainment and the personal gratification and presumably the greater popularity of the reporter. The pane of glass is dirtied and distorted." "Too often we see and read, not what happened or what was said, but the personal views of the fourth estate" (Orr 66).
The first attempt to regulate the media came when the Fairness Doctrine was established in 1934. This doctrine was created to ensure that publicly owned television and radio stations would not be biased and would promote their own views. The Federal Communications Council (FCC) was established to enforce the doctrine. In 1987 under the Reagan Administration, the Fairness Doctrine was revoked. "The role of the FCC changed, therefore evolving to monitor the decency of materials presented on the radio and television" (Orr 77). With the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine, the window for controversial journalists was opened. Thus, America saw the emergence of two strong willed personalities, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.
In the early to mid 1990s the audience of Rush Limbaugh had grown considerably. Radio stations carrying the Limbaugh Show had increased. In restaurants, there were areas called "The Rush Room" where you could eat and listen to him on the radio. Limbaugh speaks his mind as he constantly puts down democrats, liberals, and anything or anyone who does not share his views. At times the information Limbaugh provided was inaccurate. For example on June 27, 1993 Limbaugh played a tape from June 21, 1993 in which Secretary Lloyd Benson stated that the new Clinton budget plan would bring the stock market down. "A proud Limbaugh failed to recognize that on June 27, 1993 the Stock Market, Dow Jones, and NASDAQ index had risen since June 21, 1993" (Shank 9). Due to the increase in Limbaugh’s popularity, he was granted both a radio and a television show. His influence on the public was clear in the ‘94 elections in which the newly elected Congressional majority was Republican. B!
efore the ‘94 election, members of Congress feared Limbaugh’s power. "In the Senate, a bill referred to as the "Hush Rush" was designed to silence him, although it did not pass" (Corry 50).
The popularity of Howard Stern has grown tremendously over the past few years. He is constantly speaking out against people who he feels stray away from the "norm" such as gays, lesbians, etc. In the past, political candidates that Stern endorsed such as Rudolph Gulliani have gotten elected. But because of the manner in which Stern presents his views, is what concerns the FCC. When Stern says something totally outrageous, the FCC fines the Infinity Broadcasting Company, which is Stern’s employer. In December of 1992, the FCC fined Infinity Broadcasting Company $600,000 ("FCC Tags Stern" 65). But, in late 1994, the FCC failed to recognize Stern when he talked a man out of suicide. Today, "The Howard Stern Radio Show" still remains as one of the top listened to broadcasting shows in radio history. With the radio show being a huge success it was turned into a Television show, which ranks as the top most viewed show on the E! Network.
The power that the media has is derived from its ability to mold the public opinion by presenting exaggerated and biased coverage of events. The media functions as the national judge and jury. It tarnishes the reputations of many people just like the McCarthy trials. We live in a capitalist society in which money is our main motive. A journalist today is not concerned with telling the truth on an issue, but what they can say that will sell and make the most money. A journalist named Nicholas Von Hoffman wrote, "Butchers make sausage. Newspapers make public affairs. Has that hunger driven the media out of control?" (Nachman 26)
Tabloids are run purely on the basis of what will sell the most copies. It is sad that some of the most repeatable newspapers and news shows are following in the tabloid’s footsteps. "The Gennifer Flowers story appeared in The Star way before it was plastered on the front page of major newspapers such as The New York Times" (Nachman 26). But in the process of serving Americans their daily dose of gossip, innocent people are having their names dragged through the mud. Personal things are becoming public knowledge. Even worse, people are being declared guilty before it is proven that they are.
George Stephanopoulous, an established reporter stated that: "It is our job, as the media, to report about what the public wants. If they want to hear about the Menedez brothers, the Bobbitts, Tonya and Nancy, Whitewater, or O.J. Simpson, then we’ll report about it. We need to write about what the public wants in order to keep them buying newspapers" (Nachman 26).
An individual who has been affected by the media’s money driven motives is O.J. Simpson. America was fascinated with this case, because after all, it has great entertainment value. "It has a great plot, a football star kills his beautiful ex-wife and her lover in the heat of passion. The treatment of the O.J. Simpson case shows how the media has become purveyors of drama rather than information" (Gabler 12). There were an incredible amount of rumors surrounding the case. Some people have said that the Simpson case is an "American tragedy" that became the center of a media circus. Because of the enormous media coverage it caused making the selection of an impartial jury nearly impossible. It also led to having the jury secluded during the trial as well.
When O.J. Simpson was interviewed on BET (Black Entertainment Television) he said: "The biggest villain in my ordeal was the media. The media follows me everywhere I go. They report one erroneous rumor after another. The media images some Americans saw were not ones that were actually shown in court" (Jet 89).
O.J. Simpson also went on the say in that interview that the media only showed the people that were upset on his released and held signs that said "Butcher of Brentwood." "They did not show the hundreds of people that waved to him or gave him a thumbs up as he walked out of the California jail" (Jet 39).
Over the years, the Supreme Court has heard many cases regarding censorship. In 1964, the Supreme Court heard the case of "The New York Times v. Sullivan". Sullivan claimed that the newspaper had printed wrongful statements about him and was inadvertent. In the process they ruined his reputation and were liable for it. "This was the first case in which someone could actually fight back against the media" (Orr 57).
In 1990, the case Milkovich vs Lorain Journal was brought before the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the media can be held liable even when only expressing their opinions. This is especially true if the media is "implying an assertion of an objective fact. Everyone including cartoonists are vulnerable to libel suits" (Orr 58).
The United States mass communications systems are entering a time of rapid technological change and the need for policy reform is becoming increasingly apparent. The role of the FCC changes from day to day. Passage of the telecommunications bill in January 1996 created 60 new guidelines for the FCC to follow when they are considering whether something is decent or not. The bill also rejected the idea that the Internet was the electronic equivalent of the printing press. The legislators concerned themselves more with the broadcasting of indecent materials such as pornography to minors. "Anyone caught soliciting these materials to minor can be given a maximum of 10 years in jail" (Lewis B14)
In conclusion, how should the media be regulated? Many people feel that the solution to the problem is to create a new media doctrine. Opponents of this feel that this would change the information and this country would turn into a dictatorship. But, if something is not done soon, who knows what will happen? "If the media does not establish an internal system of self-regulation, the government will surely intrude, a step that will begin with regulation and ultimately lead to censorship" (Deskowitz 150). Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of America’s image and the question of free speech is arguably one of the most complex of all constitutional issues. To solve the problem there must be a partnership between the media and the American public. If the public doesn’t want lies and gossip, then that’s what the media will give them. But as America continues to be fascinated by lies and gossip, then the press will continue to print it.
Abraham, Henry J. "Censorship." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968 ed.
Calvocoressi, Peter. Freedom to Publish. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1980.
Corry, John. "Fairness Most Foul." The American Spectator November 1993: 50-51.
Deskowitz, Paul. Emergence of a Free Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
"FCC Tags Stern." Newsweek 28 December 1992: 65.
Gabler, Neal. "OJ; the News as a Miniseries." TV Guide. 30 July 1994: 12-17.
Holden, Stephen. "The Media Monster Lurking Within." Newsweek 1 October 1995: 15.
Lewis, Peter. "About freedom of the Virtual Press." The New York Times 2 January 1996: B14.
Nachman, Louis. "About the media Circus." The New York Times 26 June 1994: 26.
Orr, Lisa. Free Press, Free People, The Best Cause. London: Columbia University Press, 1971.
Shank, Joshua. "Limbaugh Lies II." The New Republic 8 August 1994: 9-10.
"Simpson Criticizes Media." Jet 12 February 1996: 38-40.
Szykowny, Rick. "Bewildering the Herd." The Humanist November 1990: 8-9.
Williams, Patricia. "Hate Radio." Ms. March 1994: 25-29.