Lee Grieveson

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:

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All social orders make decisions about what facts, ideas, and representations can safely appear in public. Liberal polities from the 18th century came to value “free speech” and, accordingly, limited prior restraint of materials. However, these freedoms are limited. These limits have been tested particularly by the rise of popular newspapers in the mid-19th century and the mass distribution of moving images from the late 19th century. Obscenity, for example, is not protected speech. Governments at times of “crisis” have extended their regulatory authority to protect official “truths,” when governments argue that “national security” mandates stricter control of information. Authoritarian and ideological regimes have historically exerted more direct control over speech and media (broadly, respectively, preventing expressions of discontent and shaping ideology). The place of moving image media in these historical and political contexts has been varied. Liberal polities have frequently innovated a mixture of government censorship and industrial self-regulation. The trend has been toward the latter, and media industries establish their own regulatory boards to ensure their products do not cross lines delineated variously by the state, church, and other influential organizations. Censorship codes thus become known to media-makers, and hence internal to textual construction, and so function as a productive force. Self-regulation aims to ensure greater profitability for the usually heavily capitalized media industries, fending off more stringent state censorship and/or regulation of other economic aspects of media industries. This is a form of market censorship and a privatization of regulation; media industries have often used regulatory authority to help generate monopoly power, to limit access to markets, and to control legal agreements, such as those for patents and intellectual property. Authoritarian and ideological regimes maintain closer control, mostly because they don’t trust market censorship. Across all regimes, advocates of censorship usually insist that screen representations affect attitudes and conduct more than other forms of media, influencing viewers to act in socially proscribed ways. The viewer affected badly by screen representation is regarded as peculiarly vulnerable and as potentially dangerous to the social order. Censorship debates often focus on children, although the effects of screen representations on other groups—such as women, immigrants, colonized populations, or working class audiences—have also been a concern. Policing the borders of expression is centrally a question of power: censors try to encourage adherence to various systems of values and marginalize competing voices. Debates about media censorship are frequently highly charged negotiations over discursive practices in a culture, marking boundaries that are always closely tied to the establishment and maintenance of forms of social, moral, and political order.

Article.  9137 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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