Censorship at the Union misses the point!

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Student Unions of late have been gathering much attention for a series of censors placed on various aspects of the University; at Sheffield this year we have seen the ban of the newspaper The Sun, the halting of playing Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines’ in the Union, and these already back up a host of examples that revolve around the censoring of certain views.

It is the opinion of this article that such censorship is incorrect. The fact that many of these decisions have gone largely uncriticised and have generated little controversy would lead one to believe the decision is welcomed and therefore correct, but this piece looks to argue that censorship is a ‘negative’ reaction, and emplaces a culture that is wholly opposite to what citizens of a liberal democracy should be pursuing.

In no part is this article making a comment on the moral astuteness of being against such things as the misogyny present in The Sun, nor the overly-suggestive sexual lyrics in ‘Blurred Lines’; it merely believes it isn’t correct to simply censor.

Millions now live in what we would define as ‘liberal democracies’; a political state whereby elections are fair, uncorrupted and run by governments that allow a variety of freedoms to their people, ranging from freedom of the press through to freedom to (in some countries at least) marry whoever you want.

Unsurprisingly, these principle values are seen to be in line with what we term as ‘liberal’ thought; namely, the freedom from oppression, to act how we want within the limits of the law, which are seen to be a ‘just’ set of regulations on how we act. Therefore, censorship seems wholly out of line with these principles, particularly given the relative ‘liberalness’ of Britain certainly in comparison to countries such as Russia.

Now, many argue that the reason this censorship takes place is because of a necessity to retract offense to those who have been indicted with troubles, or historically have been oppressed in a certain fashion.

This brings us to the Union and its recent policy of censorship, and earlier disregard for allowing certain platforms to certain people. The Union has chosen to ‘ban’ and censor many things within the university over the previous years as they are ‘offensive’ or ‘oppressive’ to a certain group in the University.

There is nothing wrong with protecting people from oppression; nobody is born with a right to be oppressed, and we’re all humans so we should all be treated with equal freedom and opportunity not to be oppressed. However, many of these censorships, which could have been a platform for more productive action, have simply been just the censor.

Censorship creates a ‘negative’ culture; negative in the sense of retrenchment. Yes, there are some things that are undeniably offensive to the point where they do not see the light of society, but there are many things that gain censorship that do not reach such a point.

For instance, ‘Blurred Lines’. Obvious in its lyrics, and to an extent offensive in its message, its censor came as a result of some believing it made the Union uncomfortable for some – whilst this may be a viable position, what is not viable is too simply ban it, because it creates this overarching principle of ‘the most we’re going to do on this is get rid of it’ and not a lot more.

Why not take positive steps? If negative is retrenchment from an issue, why do we not take positive action in engaging and tackling an issue? I am not a survivor of sexual assault, nor do I know anyone who has been affected by such a malignant attack, but for something such as ‘Blurred Lines’, which is offensive due to connotations of rape and sexual assault, wouldn’t tackling the issue at least be something far more productive that censorship? With positive measures, one could create awareness for survivors, create campaigns that help those who have been affected by such a heinous act know they shouldn’t be ashamed of it, even to have a special week where telephone services provided by the university (nightline) promote discussion of such things, and raise awareness that if people need to talk to the Union or somebody about that that is completely fine, and there Union is here for them. This seems like action much more in line with generating a positive environment for students, certainly in comparison to the banning of one song.

Censoring doesn’t particularly do this – it shows a respect for a person’s wellbeing, but not a desire to help with such wellbeing to the extent that positive action does.

As well, positive action can actually help show the inadequacies and problems of certain things. Take the no-platform policy for the British National Party; whilst in no way do I believe the BNP are in any way a morally astute party or believe any of their view on modern society are correct or praiseworthy, by censoring them, you will inevitably fuel a fire of ignorance – those who are on the side of censorship will simply see an irrational wall built in front of them, and as a result a growing dichotomy of opinion.

Surely a better position is to take positive steps; give them a platform and dismantle any notion of right that they have in their philosophy; show through acceptable and reasoned argument that such views are not feasible, not logical and, on the subverted level of racist tendency, are wholly immoral. From this, as you can see on Question Time some years ago when the BNP were ‘an up and coming party’, by dismantling them with reason, logic, an assured values liberal democracies are built on, we find a much more thorough and comprehensive rejection generally of such horrible beliefs, much more than simple censorship.

In the end, nobody can claim censoring is bad in the same way the things that are censored are; it is clearly a move in most parts to try help and protect those who are vulnerable. However, without any further action, censorship very suddenly takes on a persona of the only necessary thing to do for a lot of issues, when in fact it is not, so as a collective it must be made sure that censorship isn’t the be all and end all of decision making, and really only the starting point.