Blogs > Liberty and Power > Wendy McElroy, Subtle Censorship

Feb 26, 2004 2:38 pm

Wendy McElroy, Subtle Censorship

Dangerous forms of censorship are occurring below the radar-level of civil libertarians. Information is being both curtailed and promoted by the State -- depending on the material's slant -- in covert ways that receive far less attention than the more obvious suspension of Howard Stern. In the area of curtailment, consider: "Publishers face prison for editing foreign works." Democracy Now! reports,"The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba. Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a 'service' and the treasury department says it is illegal to perform services for embargoed nations. It can be punishable by fines of up to a half-million dollars or jail terms as long as 10 years." This curtails the flow of information in at least three manners: 1) many articles require translation, which is a service; 2) few publishers of size or reputation would agree to relinquish all editorial control over content; and, 3) publishers who risk printing/posting articles may well be fined or prosecuted even tho' they attempt to satisfy the editing requirement. For example, they may not traditionally edit the article but who is to say that the Office of Foreign Assets Control will not be"liberal" in its interpretation of editing and include e.g. htmling a piece to constitute such a service. Every publisher who uses an article originated in Cuba or the like is setting himself up as a target....not of censorship. Heaven's NO! that would invoke messy questions about the First Amendment. The publisher is a target of the Treasury Department and of the war on terrorism.

In the area of promotion, while de facto banning the importation of news and opinions from objectionable areas of the world, the US is using taxes to export its own worldview. Michael Young explains in a Reason Magazine article entitled"Pay up, for the 'free one'":"In mid-February, the United States government began its latest effort to change hearts and minds in the Arab world, as its new Arab-language satellite news station, Al-Hurra, began broadcasting to a mostly dubious Middle East. ... Almost immediately, critics in the Middle East dismissed the station as a propaganda tool of the United States. Some observers pointed out that the station merely repeated a pattern of American public diplomacy efforts that had already been shown to fail. Indeed, the State Department last year launched a radio station, Radio Sawa, and an Arabic-language lifestyle magazine titled Hi, to offer Arabs a friendlier image of America. The magazine in particular was met with crushing indifference." Censorship is not facilitated by merely suppressing some voices; it is also served by the official sanctioning and funding of others.

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