Libertarian Censorship

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
29th June 2012

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Censorship was a debate most people thought was won (or lost) in the 1960’s. But it has been neither won nor lost - just changed - and that for the worse.

Those opposed to censorship believed in

                i               the goodness of human nature,

                ii              the harmlessness (if not benefit) of all communication, and that

                iii             people in power will protect themselves rather than truth.

You do not need to read James 3 to see that the first two of these arguments are manifestly false. The sinfulness of all humans is demonstrated in the universal habit of telling lies. Words are incredibly powerful and effective, both for good and ill; otherwise there would be no point in writing books, blogs or newspapers, let alone spending money on advertising.

However, the third argument is all too true. People in power use censorship to retain their position and promote their viewpoint. Yet governments are not the only people in power and police raids and court cases are not the only means of censorship. It happens in a whole range of ways from things we are compelled to see (or pay for) through advertising, to things we are not allowed to see because they are never given an airing. From marginalising and dismissing views and people by what social scientists call ‘labelling’ to the selectivity of the education curriculum.

The 1960’s removed censorship of sex, vulgarity and blasphemy. The end result of these newfound freedoms has been the pornographic garbage that now infests the web. The problem is not the computer but its users. The sheer power of the computer enables it to be used for great good as well as great evil. The computer revolution helped bring down dictators in the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring. It has allowed a free flow of information previously limited by the monopoly of public media. Christian articles that mainstream media refuse to publish are now widely disseminated by means of the web. However, within a few clicks of the mouse there is portrayed the most hideous, degenerate, violent, malicious, sick-minded abuse of women, children and animals. There is almost nothing the consumer cannot see and few ways to protect the members of the family let alone society. Pornography is now so freely available it has even put some of its producers out of business!

The most powerful argument against censorship is protection from ‘political censorship’. Yet, since the 1960’s, political censorship is alive and well if not growing. Governments since then have censored tobacco advertising and the possession of child pornography. But most of today’s censorship is not sponsored by government so much as based in public media and facilitated by government. Today’s dominant, liberal minded secularists demonstrate their hypocrisy by rejoicing in their free speech while censoring the public square.

The Levin inquiry in Britain has brought a new spotlight on the power of the public media in distorting public discourse. The retired politician, Lindsay Tanner, recounted in his book “Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy” how it operates in the Australian context. It is not an organised conspiracy, so much as “the aggregated outcome of countless individuals acting rationally in pursuit of their own interests.”

The public media censor opinions that they either do not want aired or are contrary to their financial concerns. So the Sydney Morning Herald, when challenged, admitted that its presentation of opinion pieces on homosexual marriage is unbalanced. The commercial TV networks have refused to show advertisements against poker machine advertising, while directing commentators to speak against poker machine reform. And apparently the ABC had to be embarrassed by monarchists into showing the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. Here are issues of public debate, where publically owned media are not allowing both sides of an issue a fair hearing. Presentation of arguments which are not offensive, lewd or violent; that do not defame or vilify, are censored by the guardians of free speech who are insistent upon their own editorial independence.

Universities are not immune to this problem of censorship. The contributions of Professors H.J. Eysenck in the 1970’s and Andrew Fraser in 2005, may not be to our liking but their arguments were not given a fair hearing in our universities. In 2012 a campaign was launched to prevent a pro-life (i.e. anti abortion) group of students being registered with the Sydney University Union. The decision of the committee was 6/5 in favour of registering the club, though further political action is being taken against it. Sadly, most Christian students learn in first year not to mention their existence let alone their views in class, and Christian ministries face attempts by the university to restrict or remove them from campus.

There are certain subjects that are taboo in public discussion, and to raise them is to be marginalised and labelled. To question migration policy is to be called a racist. To question Islam is to be attacked as ‘Islamophobic’. To oppose homosexual marriage is to be labelled ‘homophobic’. To question abortion ethics is ‘an affront to women’s rights’. These are not arguments but vilification, yet liberal secularists are at the forefront of their use.

Furthermore to hold a religious view dismisses and discounts you from public discussion. To secularists, democracy is not the rule of the people but the rule of ‘right thinking’ people i.e. non-religious people. It matters not whether your opinion is based on reason or whether or not your religion has informed your reasoning on a subject – just by virtue of your religious commitment your opinion is to be ignored. The impression is given that only religious people are biased by their beliefs and morality or only religious people try to ‘impose’ their values on others.

When Tony Blair was Prime Minister he was stopped by media advisors from answering questions about God and admits that civil servants prevented him from finishing a speech with: “God bless you.”  Now that is powerful censorship – when the most powerful man in a nation cannot say “God bless you”!