The Constitution of the United States of America contains the basic rights of citizens of this country. There is, perhaps, no right more controversial than the First Amendment in the Constitution, first introduced on December 15, 1791. The First Amendment states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances(1st Amendment, Internet).
Due to the indecisiveness of this Amendment, arguments over the interpretation of the words written by the founding fathers have flourished for years. One of the main arguments that has arisen over the years is over the interpretation of what is meant by free speech and free press. While this argument has stemmed off in many directions, one of the most recent and heated debates is over the governments ability to censor material to the public. Some of the major forms of censorship occur in television, music, literature, and most recently, the Internet.
Censorship has taken place in various forms since the earliest rulers existed. These earliest forms of censorship existed through a leader of some sort trying to keep his people from saying bad things about him. This censorship, while fairly undocumented, has taken place in various governments throughout time in most areas of the world. While censorship today has taken a different form in the United States, the same basic principles have remained the same. Censorship is basically an attempt by the government to limit what the public sees, hears, or absorbs.
I believe that all forms of censorship are basically a violation of the basic First Amendment right that so many people take for granted. Some limit must be put on the ability of the government to censor any kind of communication in the United States, or the basic rights of the people will be infringed upon. One of the biggest forms of censorship that takes place in the United States today exists in one of the largest mediums of communication we know of. This medium is known as the television.
In 1999, it was reported that over 99% of all American households have at least one television, with a majority of the households having more then one set available(Chafee, 173). This startling statistic is accompanied by another fact that shows the average American watches 30 hours of television weekly(Chafee, 173). With this kind of participation from the American public in any kind of medium of communication, it is no wonder why some people consider the idea of censorship with so much enthusiasm.
However, adults have the right to view material they please, and therefore, their rights should remain intact. The problem that most people have with violence, sex, and profanity on television comes into play when considering the number of children that watch television without a parent or any sort of controls on their viewing. It has been reported that 10,000 acts of media violence are witnessed in one year by the average American child(Zeinert, 88).
One must keep in mind that this statistic does not include any sexual content or profanity children may view. The American public has expressed some concern over the material their children view each day, and that has been the beginning and the continued push behind the need for some sort of censorship of television. It wasnt until the dramatic increase in violent crimes committed by children, however, that there was a strong public demand to censor the material children have access too.
While the claim that something needs to be done to at least reduce the amount of violence, sexual material, or profanity that American children view has began to pick up support among the American public, the means by which to accomplish such a task have yet to be resolved. Some argue that censorship is the only way to accomplish such a large scale problem, but others argue that the problem starts at home. A survey conducted by the Roper Center concluded that over 50% of parents do not monitor what their children watch at home.
This figure shows me that parents are not taking the responsibility to watch their children, and instead are just relying on television to show programs intended for younger viewers. With the help of some electronic blocking devices, such as the V-chip, parents can monitor what their children are able to watch, without getting the government involved. The V-chip can help parents watch their children even when theyre not home. This new safeguard is the best alternative to censorship.
Since many programs are beginning to contain a rating system displayed at the beginning of each show, parents can get a basic idea of the content of the show without having to sit through each program their child wants to watch. Instead of censorship of the whole community, it would merely become an issue of parents dealing with their children(Zeinert, 89). I believe this issue is much less controversial and should help relieve the push for censorship in America.
So why do we need censorship of television when the parents, assisted by technology, can monitor what their children watch while still being able to watch programs they would like to see themselves? The simple answer is, we dont. A second area in which censorship has started to interfere with is music. Music was originally censored much the way free speech was. In the 1700s, New Yorks Governor Crosby attempted to keep a group of citizens from singing songs that went against the King of England(Chafee, 182). More recently, however, censorship of music has taken place due to explicit lyrics.
Similar to the worry of violence, sex, and profanity being shown to children on television, the worry of children listening to explicit lyrics in music has caused concern. The first real case of this occurrence occurred when a rap group known as 2 Live Crew was banned from areas of Florida because of their songs lyrics(Zeinert, 82). 2 Live Crew was arrested for public obscenity, but they won their case in the appellate courts based on the idea that it was illegal to ban entertainment groups from performing or selling their act(Zeinert, 83).
In 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center was the first company to put stickers on compact discs and cassettes giving a warning of Explicit Lyrics, and giving Parental Advisory (Chafee, 195). I feel this is the first step in the right direction. Instead of trying to censor music lyrics, the Parents Music Resource Center is trying to inform parents what their children are listening to. They leave the decision of what children can listen to up to the parents, instead of trying to censor the entire nation. Again, censorship seems unnecessary, and an infringement upon the rights of citizens of the United States of America.
A third area in which censorship has taken place is in literature. Censorship in literature has increased dramatically in recent years. In fact, from 1991 to 1994, there has been more than a 50% increase in the number of demands that books be banned in schools libraries as well as public libraries(Zeinert, 109). Some of the books being demanded to be removed from libraries nationwide include, Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, Forever, by Judy Blume, and The Bridge to Terabithia, written by Katherine Paterson.
These American classics have been removed from shelves due to various reasons. Mark Twains novel, for example, has been attacked for its use of the term nigger, as well as its portrayal of African American slaves. The state office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement, Feb. 3, 1998, claiming that Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is offensive to black students and should be banned from classrooms across the state (Meyer, Internet).
This kind of censorship, whether it be from public or school libraries, not only denies the author freedom expression, but denies the reader the ability to judge for themselves the contents of a book. Many children learn about racism, sex, abuse, or drugs through books that some libraries have banned. Without these books, some children will not come to conclusions about these subjects until they are encountered in the real world, and some important lessons such as trusting yourself, knowing what you believe in, and having tolerance will not be learned until the children are adults(Chafee, 199).
It is not right to deny people important lessons in life by denying them the right to choose which materials they read, just because some might find it offensive. Once again, rating can be placed on books that give parents the idea of what they are reading before even opening the book, and so censorship is not needed, but only information. The final, and probably most controversial, issue on the topic of censorship concerns the Internet. In the past ten years, the Internet has become one of the hottest areas of debate dealing with censorship.
Once again, the majority of concern comes in with the nations youth. The Internet, a tool by which great amounts of information can be found, also holds profanity, violence, and especially sexual material. With over 60% of American households owning a personal computer, and over 90% of children in the United States having access to the Internet in some way, there needs to be a way to safeguard these children from harmful material(Meyer, Internet). Once again, censorship is not the way.
It is unconstitutional to censor, ban, or control any Internet sites containing sexually explicit material(Meyer, Internet). However, due to the fact that a large percentage of the nations youth has access to the Internet, it is not unreasonable to expect some sort of control on sexually explicit material. After all, it is illegal for a minor to purchase pornography. In the same way, children should not be allowed to view sexually explicit material on the Internet.
By the same reasoning, sexually explicit material cannot be banned from the Internet, because adults have the right to purchase, and therefore view this material. Instead, Internet sites have been forced to at least advertise that their site contains sexually explicit material, and that you must be at least of legal age to enter(Meyer, Internet). This is not enough protection for the youth. New technology, such as the E-chip, much like what can be used to help parents limit what their children can watch on television is now available for the Internet.
This technology allows parents to control the type of material their children can view on the Internet without censoring material for all people. So once again, the parents are in control of the process of censoring, and not the government. This leaves the legal issues of the First Amendment and the freedom to speech out of the picture while still helping limit what children see. In 1997, President Clinton has voiced his support of such material and parent involvement, as well as stricter enforcement of laws prosecuting those Internet users who intentionally break pornography laws(Meyer, Internet).
Clinton has also pushed popular Internet providers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator to provide free programs with their products to allow parents to control what their children can access(Meyer, Internet). Once again, this steps back from censorship and violating the rights of American citizens, and steps towards giving parents the tools they need to protect their children. People should be able to express ideas in any type of medium without government regulations. All the areas that currently concern censorship have created a lot of controversy in the United States courts.
Due to the nature of the Constitution, these controversies may never be fully solved. However, it is clear that censorship is not the best answer to many of the issues it directly deals with. Instead, giving the ability for parents to control what their children have access to in everyday life is a much better alternative. Not only does this method refrain from infringing on the rights of citizens, but it also allows parents to individually choose what they see fit for their children. The government needs to continue to support such ideas as the V-chip and E-chip, that give parents control.