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Censorship is the suppression or deletion of material, which may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive, as determined by a censor.

Typically censorship is done by governments, religious and secular groups, corporations, or the mass media, although other forms of censorship exist. The withholding of classified information, commercial secrets, intellectual property, and privileged lawyer-client communication is not usually described as censorship within the censoring community, though can be by outside observers. The term "censorship" often carries with it a sense of untoward, inappropriate or repressive secrecy.

Censorship is closely related to the concept of freedom of speech. It is often associated with human rights abuse, dictatorship, and repression.

The term "censorship" is often used as a pejorative term to signify a belief that a group controlling certain information is using this control improperly or for its own benefit, or preventing others from accessing information that should be made readily accessible (often so that conclusions drawn can be verified).

Aspects of censorship

By subject matter and agenda


Confiscation of a forbidden book (poetry by Sergei Yesenin) in Gulag. Painting by Nikolai Getman, provided by The Jamestown Foundation.

The rationale for censorship is different for various types of data censored. Censorship is defined as the act or practice of removing obscene, vulgar, and highly objectionable material from things we encounter every day. Whether it is on TV, in music, books, or on the Internet censorship is an inescapable part of our lives. There are five main types of censorship:

  • Moral censorship is the means by which any material that contains what the censor deems to be of questionable morality is removed. The censoring body disapproves of what it deems to be the values behind the material and limits access to it. Pornography, for example, is often censored under this rationale. In another example, graphic violence resulted in the censorship of the "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" movie entitled "Scarface" originally completed in 1932.
  • Military censorship is the process of keeping military intelligence and tactics confidential and away from the enemy. This is used to counter espionage, which is the process of gleaning military information. Additionally, military censorship may involve a restriction on information or media coverage that can be released to the public. This is also considered acceptable by even democratic governments as necessary for the preservation of national security.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Political censorship occurs when governments hold back secret information from their citizens. The logic is to prevent the free expression needed to rebel. Democracies do not officially approve of political censorship but often endorse it privately.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Any dissent against the government is thought to be a “weakness” for the enemy to exploit.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Campaign tactics are also often kept secret: see the Watergate scandal.
  • Religious censorship is the means by which any material objectionable to a certain faith is removed. This often involves a dominant religion forcing limitations on less prevalent ones. Alternatively, one religion may shun the works of another when they believe the content is not appropriate for their faith. This type of censorship is common in several Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • Corporate censorship is the process by which editors in corporate media outlets intervene to halt the publishing of information that portrays their business or business partners in a negative light. Privately owned corporations in the business of reporting the news also sometimes refuse to distribute information due to the potential loss of advertiser revenue or shareholder value which adverse publicity may bring. See media bias.

Censorship of state secrets and prevention of attention

File:Natgeo censorship.jpg

A National Geographic Magazine censored by Iranian authorities. The offending cover was about the subject of love, and the picture hidden beneath the white sticker is of an embracing couple.[1] February 2006.


The Rhodesia Herald of September 21, 1966.


Wieczór Wrocławia" - Daily newspaper of Wrocław, People's Republic of Poland, March 20-21-21, 1981, with censor intervention on first and last pages --- under the headlines "Co zdarzyło się w Bydgoszczy?" (What happened in Bydgoszcz?) and "Pogotowie strajkowe w całym kraju" (Country-wide strike alert). The censor had removed a section regarding the strike alert; hence the workers in the printing house blanked out an official propaganda section. The right-hand page also includes a hand-written confirmation of that decision by the local "Solidarność" Trade Union.

In wartime, explicit censorship is carried out with the intent of preventing the release of information that might be useful to an enemy. Typically it involves keeping times or locations secret, or delaying the release of information (e.g., an operational objective) until it is of no possible use to enemy forces. The moral issues here are often seen as somewhat different, as release of tactical information usually presents a greater risk of casualties among one's own forces and could possibly lead to loss of the overall conflict. During World War I letters written by British soldiers would have to go through censorship. This consisted of officers going through letters with a black marker and crossing out anything which might compromise operational secrecy before the letter was sent. The World War II catchphrase "Loose lips sink ships" was used as a common justification to exercise official wartime censorship and encourage individual restraint when sharing potentially sensitive information.

An example of sanitization policies comes from the USSR under Joseph Stalin, where publicly used photographs were often altered to remove people whom Stalin had condemned to execution. Though past photographs may have been remembered or kept, this deliberate and systematic alteration to all of history in the public mind is seen as one of the central themes of Stalinism and totalitarianism.

Censorship of educational sources

The content of school textbooks is often the issue of debate, since their target audience is young people, and the term "whitewashing" is the one commonly used to refer to selective removal of critical or damaging evidence or comment. The reporting of military atrocities in history is extremely controversial, as in the case of the Nanking Massacre, the Holocaust (or Holocaust denial), and the Winter Soldier Investigation of the Vietnam War. The representation of every society's flaws or misconduct is typically downplayed in favor of a more nationalist, favorable or patriotic view.

Religious groups have at times attempted to block the teaching of evolution in publicly-funded schools as it contradicts their religious beliefs or have argued that they are being censored if not allowed to teach creationism. The teaching of sexual education in school and the inclusion of information about sexual health and contraceptive practices in school textbooks is another area where suppression of information occurs.

In the context of secondary-school education, the way facts and history are presented greatly influences the interpretation of contemporary thought, opinion and socialization. One argument for censoring the type of information disseminated is based on the inappropriate quality of such material for the young. The use of the "inappropriate" distinction is in itself controversial, as it can lead to a slippery slope enforcing wider and more politically-motivated censorship. Some artists such as Frank Zappa helped in the protest against censorship. Although they usually failed, they did put up an argument against the censorship of other material.

An example of such censorship is, ironically, Fahrenheit 451. The book was themed against censorship, but changed heavily. A Ballantine Books version which is the version used by most school classes[2] contained approximately 75 separate edits, omissions, and changes from the original Bradbury manuscript.[clarify]

[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Suppression/falsification of scientific research

For more information, see the article on scientific misconduct.

Scientific studies may be suppressed or falsified because they undermine sponsors' commercial, political or other interests or because they fail to support researchers' ideological goals. Examples include, failing to publish a study which shows that a new drug is harmful, or truthfully publishing the benefits of a treatment while failing to describe harmful side-effects. Scientific research may also be suppressed or altered to support a political agenda. In the United States some government scientists, including NASA climatologist Drew Shindell, have reported governmental pressure to alter their statements regarding climate change.[3]

Censorship in music and popular culture

File:The Happy Land - Illustrated London News, March 22, 1873.PNG

In Victorian England, portrayal of public officials, among other things, was forbidden. The Lord Chamberlain, an official responsible for censoring plays, created a scandal in 1873 by banning The Happy Land for its portrayal of Prime Minister William Gladstone and two other ministers in his cabinet. In response, Marie Litton, the manager of the theatre where it was performed, agreed to amend it to a censored version - and printed a script with the censored lines in all capital letters to make the censorship easier to spot.[4]

American musicians such as Frank Zappa have repeatedly protested against censorship in music and pushed for more freedom of expression. In 1986, Zappa appeared on CNN's Crossfire to protest censorship of lyrics in rock music, saying that harm will be done or unrest caused if controversial information, lyrics, or other messages are promulgated.

In countries like Sudan, Afghanistan and China, violations of musician’s rights to freedom of expression are commonplace. In the USA and Algeria, lobbying groups have succeeded in keeping popular music off the concert stage, and out of the media and retail. In ex-Yugoslavia musicians are often pawns in political dramas, and the possibility of free expression has been adversely affected.

Music censorship has been implemented by states, religions, educational systems, families, retailers and lobbying groups – and in most cases they violate international conventions of human rights.[5]

Copy, picture, and writer approval

Copy approval is the right to read and amend an article, usually an interview, before publication. Many publications refuse to give copy approval but it is increasingly becoming common practice when dealing with publicity anxious celebrities.[6] Picture approval is the right given to an individual to choose which photos will be published and which will not. Robert Redford is well known for insisting upon picture approval.[7] Writer approval is when writers are chosen based on whether they will write flattering articles or not. Hollywood publicist Pat Kingsley is known for banning certain writers who wrote undesirably about one of her clients from interviewing any of her other clients.[7]

Censorship implementation

Censorship is regarded among a majority of academics in the Western world as a typical feature of dictatorships and other authoritarian political systems. Democratic nations are represented, especially among Western government, academic and media commentators, as having somewhat less institutionalized censorship, and as instead promoting the importance of freedom of speech. The former Soviet Union maintained a particularly extensive program of state-imposed censorship. The main organ for official censorship in the Soviet Union was the Chief Agency for Protection of Military and State Secrets generally known as the Glavlit, its Russian acronym. The Glavlit handled censorship matters arising from domestic writings of just about any kind — even beer and vodka labels. Glavlit censorship personnel were present in every large Soviet publishing house or newspaper; the agency employed some 70,000 censors to review information before it was disseminated by publishing houses, editorial offices, and broadcasting studios. No mass medium escaped Glavlit's control. All press agencies and radio and television stations had Glavlit representatives on their editorial staffs.


Censored pre-press proof of two articles from "Noticias da Amadora", a Portuguese newspaper, 1970.

Some thinkers understand censorship to include other attempts to suppress points of view or the exploitation of negative propaganda, media manipulation, spin, disinformation or "free speech zones." These methods tend to work by disseminating preferred information, by relegating open discourse to marginal forums, and by preventing other ideas from obtaining a receptive audience.

Sometimes, a specific and unique information whose very existence is barely known to the public, is kept in a subtle, near-censorship situation, being regarded as “subversive” or “inconvenient”. Michel Foucault’s 1978 text Sexual Morality and the Law (later republished as "The Danger of Child Sexuality"), for instance - originally published as La loi de la pudeur [literally, ‘the law of decency’], defends the decriminalization of statutory rape and the abolition of age of consent laws,[8] and as of July 2006, is almost totally invisible throughout the internet, both in English and French, and does not appear even on Foucault-specialized websites.

Commercial censorship

Suppression of access to the means of dissemination of ideas can function as a form of censorship. Such suppression has been alleged to arise from the policies of governmental bodies, such as the FDA and FCC in the United States of America, the CRTC in Canada, newspapers that refuse to run commentary the publisher disagrees with, lecture halls that refuse to rent themselves out to a particular speaker, and individuals who refuse to finance such a lecture. The omission of selected voices in the content of stories also serves to limit the spread of ideas, and is often called censorship. Such omission can result, for example, from persistent failure or refusal by media organizations to contact criminal defendants (relying solely on official sources for explanations of crime). Censorship has been alleged to occur in such media policies as blurring the boundaries between hard news and news commentary, and in the appointment of allegedly biased commentators, such as a former government attorney, to serve as anchors of programs labeled as hard news but comprising primarily commentary.

The focusing of news stories to exclude questions that might be of interest to some audience segments, such as the avoidance of reporting cumulative casualty rates among citizens of a nation that is the target or site of a foreign war, or the values of natural methods in the prevention, treatment, and curing of disease, is often described as a form of censorship. Favorable representation in news or information services of preferred products or services, such as reporting on leisure travel and comparative values of various machines instead of on leisure activities such as arts, crafts or gardening has been described by some as a means of censoring ideas about the latter in favor of the former.

Self-censorship: Imposed on the media in a free market by market/cultural forces rather than a censoring authority. This occurs when it is more profitable for the media to give a biased view.

Meta censorship

In this form of censorship, any information about existence of censorship and the legal basis of the censorship is censored. Rules of censoring were classified. Removed texts or phrases were not marked.[clarify]

[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Creative censorship

In this form of censorship, censors rewrite texts, giving these texts secret co-authors.[clarify]

[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Censorship by country

United States

Main article: Censorship in the United States

Under US law, the First Amendment protects free speech and freedom of the press to some degree. Radio broadcasts are under constant scrutiny. This amendment does not mention many things, one being obscenity (a term usually applied to sexual material), but the common interpretation ignores this aspect using the argument that there is no social value deemed applicable to it. This applies only to the government and government entities; private corporations are under no such restriction.

Map Imagery

Main article: Censorship of maps

Google Earth censors places which may be of special security concern. The following is a selection of such concerns:

  • The former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam had expressed concern over the availability of high-resolution pictures of sensitive locations in India.
  • Indian Space Research Organization says, Google Earth poses security threat to India and seeks dialogue with Google officials.
  • The South Korean government has expressed concern that the software offers images of the presidential palace and various military installations that could possibly be used by North Korea.
  • Operators of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney, Australia asked Google to censor high resolution pictures of the facility. However, they later withdrew the request.
  • The government of Israel also expressed concern over the availability of high-resolution pictures of sensitive locations in its territory, and applied pressure to have Israeli territory (and the Occupied Territories held by Israeli forces) appear in less clear detail.
  • The Vice President of the United State's residence (Naval Observatory) in Washington, DC has been pixelized.


Censorship in the Internet - In January 2007, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge issued an order to Brasil Telecom and Telefonica preventing public access to an intimate video of model Daniela Cicarelli and her boyfriend Renato Malzonithe on the YouTube site. Cicarelli and Malzoni had sued YouTube the previous year and got an injunction for the removal of the video, but it was still appearing. YouTube staff were eventually able to prevent the video from appearing on their site.[9]

Censorship around the world

Asian and Pacific area
Censorship in Australia, Censorship in China, Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China, Censorship in India, Censorship in Malaysia, Internet Censorship in Pakistan, Censorship in Singapore, Censorship in South Asia, Censorship in Taiwan, Censorship in Thailand, Censorship of radio and film (Thailand)
Middle east
Censorship in Iran, Censorship in Iraq, Censorship in Israel, Censorship in Saudi Arabia
American area
Censorship in the United States, Censorship in Canada, Censorship in Cuba
Eurasian area
Censorship in Belarus, Censorship in East Germany (former GDR), Censorship in France, Censorship in the Republic of Ireland, Censorship in Portugal, Censorship in the Russian Empire, Censorship in the Soviet Union, Censorship in Sweden, Censorship in Turkey, Censorship in the United Kingdom

Wikipedia itself is unavailable to Internet servers in certain countries, such as Iran, China, and North Korea, due to Internet censorship. [10]

Censorship of media

Banned items
Banned books, Banned films, Censorship of music
Business and activities
Corporate media, Re-edited film
Criticism of Wikipedia (Censorship section), Video game controversy

Other types of censorship

Business activities
Advertising regulation, Corporate censorship
Censorship by organized religion, Postal censorship, Censorship under fascist regimes, Internet censorship

See also


Censorship of nudity


A to F
Anthony Comstock (Comstock Law), Autocensorship, Book burning, Book banning, Elsebeth Baumgartner, Entertainment Software Rating Board, Freedom of speech
G to P
Q to Z 
Standards & Practices, Parents Television Council, Whitewashing, Obscurantism

External articles and references

Citations and notes

  1. Lundqvist, J. More pictures of Iranian Censorship. URL accessed on August 2007-01-21.
  2. Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Del Rey Books. April 1991.
  3. includeonly>Dean, Cornelia. "Scientists Criticize White House Stance on Climate Change Findings", The New York Times, 2007-01-31. Retrieved on 2007-09-19.
  4. The Illustrated London News, March 15, 1873, page 243
  6. includeonly>Ian Mayes. "The readers' editor on requests that are always refused", The Guardian, 2005-04-23. Retrieved on August 2007-01-21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 includeonly>"Caution: big name ahead", The Observer, 2002-01-27. Retrieved on August 2007-01-21.
  8. The Danger of Child Sexuality - an interview with Michel Foucault
  9. ABC News: ABC News
  10. Censorship fears rise as Iran blocks access to top websites | Iran | Guardian Unlimited

General information

  • Abbott, Randy. "A Critical Analysis of the Library-Related Literature Concerning Censorship in Public Libraries and Public School Libraries in the United States During the 1980s." Project for degree of Education Specialist, University of South Florida, December 1987. ED 308 864
  • Burress, Lee. Battle of the Books. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. ED 308 508
  • Butler, Judith, "Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative" (1997)
  • Foucault, Michel, edited by Lawrence D. Kritzman. Philosophy, Culture: interviews and other writings 1977-1984 (New York/London: 1988, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-90082-4) The text ''Sexual Morality and the Law'' is Chapter 16 of the book
  • O'Reilly, Robert C. and Larry Parker. "Censorship or Curriculum Modification?" Paper presented at a School Boards Association, 1982, 14 p. ED 226 432
  • Hansen, Terry. The Missing Times: News media complicity in the UFO cover-up, 2000. ISBN 0-7388-3612-5
  • Hendrikson, Leslie. "Library Censorship: ERIC Digest No. 23." ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Boulder, Colorado, November 1985. ED 264 165
  • Hoffman, Frank. "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship." Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989. ED 307 652
  • Marek, Kate. "Schoolbook Censorship USA." June 1987. ED 300 018
  • National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC). "Books on Trial: A Survey of Recent Cases." January 1985. ED 258 597
  • Small, Robert C., Jr. "Preparing the New English Teacher to Deal with Censorship, or Will I Have to Face it Alone?" Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English, 1987, 16 p.
(Arguing that an English teacher should get advice from school librarians in preparing to encounter three levels of censorship:
  1. Rejection of adolescent fiction and popular teen magazines as having low value,
  2. Experienced colleagues discouraging "difficult" lesson plans,
  3. Outside interest groups limiting students' exposure. ED 289 172)
  • Terry, John David II. "Censorship: Post Pico." In "School Law Update, 1986," edited by Thomas N. Jones and Darel P. Semler. ED 272 994
  • [1] Supreme Court rejects advocates' plea to preserve useful formats
  • World Book Encyclopedia, volume 3 (C-Ch), pages 345, 346
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