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Tyler Camack

The Ongoing Issue of Censorship of the Press



In recent times there has been a staggering rise in censorship of the press, whether it be in China
during the recent protests about an electoral reform or within our own country in Ferguson,
Missouri. Every First Amendment freedom is essential for a well-oiled, well-functioning
country. But our rights as Americans have been infringed upon and will continue to be infringed
upon unless we speak up.

It is frequently said that censoring media in certain situations, such as during the Ferguson riots,
isnt unconstitutional because it was in the countrys best interest to limit what was seen outside
of the area itself in order to prevent larger issues from arising. While this may be true in some
situations, it seems to be an overused excuse by some government officials. In times of war it
may be a valid reason because it can provide support for the government, but in domestic affairs
there is no reason to hide what is happening. The fact of the matter is that there is never a good
time to infringe upon any right. There is no evidence that if more people are properly informed
of a situation than the fallout will spread to other areas. In fact there are some who would say
preventing people from knowing everything would cause more of a problem.

One of the largest problems that arises when censorship comes into play is overshadowing the
real issue at hand, which could potentially be beneficial in some situations. In others, such as the
shooting of Michael Brown, censorship will end up pushing the real issue to the side and creating
an entirely new one. There were multiple stories of press censorship as the Ferguson Riots were
underway.

Historically, censoring the press is not a new thing. In fact it has been around for almost as long
as freedom of the press had been a right. One of the earliest reported times of press censorship
occurred during President John Adams time in office. Just over a decade after the ratification of
our Constitution, the Sedition Act was signed into law by John Adams. This made it a crime to
publish material that was overly critical of the president or either house of Congress. A similar
thing happened a second time, during Abraham Lincolns presidency. Although often
overlooked due to his extraordinarily popular presidency, he shut down a few different anti-war
Northern newspapers during the Civil War. This can be more easily justified since it was a time
of war, but what cannot be justified are the actions that followed- violent attacks against
newspapers that had critical opinions of the war.

China is another country that very recently has had issues with censoring the press, with more
stories of censorship constantly being brought to light. Most recently, China blocked the BBC
website within the country. This isnt the first website being banned in China, with previous
websites ranging from YouTube to Google, and even including the mobile version of Wikipedia.
The Chinese governments reasoning for banning these websites in itself is saying they are
censoring anti-government media, with their release of the following statement: "Laws and
regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state
power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honor and interests."

Although not officially confirmed, Americas rationale for censoring the press in Ferguson
seems to be because of the way the police force was responding to the situation at hand. The
controversy towards the response sparked an argument about the militarization of police forces.
Even in Durango, Colorado the La Plata County Sheriffs Department has a Mine-Resistant
Armor Protected vehicle, better known as an MRAP. Due to it being designed to withstand a
direct IED attack, a common criticism is directed at the need for something so large. Similar
vehicles were used within Ferguson, which is one of the largest reasons the controversy arose.
With the facts of the situation it almost seems like the press was being censored because it was
furthering the controversy which was causing criticism of state power, similar to the reasoning
for censoring certain websites in China.

Directly comparing the United States to China is unwarranted as well as unfair. For instance, the
United States has a Constitution which protects the rights of the press to report freely. China,
while similar, for the most part decides what is acceptable for publication. Our press has a right
to report on whatever they choose, which may be why we have so many news sources that skew
stories to suit their own personal interests. This being said, the reasoning for censorship on the
Ferguson story has yet to be explained. It will likely continue to be unclear, potentially until it is
simply forgotten. The fact of the matter, however, is that our First Amendment right of freedom
of the press was infringed upon in this situation, and this is unacceptable.