Thursday, April 19, 2007

Censorship

One of the points that I argued in my PhD thesis was that the type of censorship we had in World War II could not exist today. The Canadian system relied on journalists to police themselves to prevent information useful to the enemy from making it into print or over the radio airwaves. The censorship system told the media what not to publish. The media obliged partly because they knew that they would not be beaten on a story because everyone followed the rules. Sometimes the system failed, but, for the most part, it worked pretty well. It helped that most people, especially in English Canada, believed in the necessity of all of society working together to wage total war. Television, satellites, photocopiers and the Internet have so vastly widened the pool of "publishers" that an elitist system like the World War II censorship mechanism cannot work today. At the same time, journalism is continually being cheapened, journalists are losing credibility and respect, and the formal industry of journalism is in very deep trouble.
I don't know if this would have been published in the past. In peacetime, there's no solid legal justification for suppressing this kind of material. There used to be issues of morality. People would argue that it was wrong to give this man the "victory" of having his image and his message dominate the story of the massacre at Virginia Tech. A journalist, publication or broadcaster that used the material might have been shunned by the people, and by their colleagues. Today, there is no morality. There are only numbers. Or, at least, that's what media managers think. And maybe the numbers will be high at NBC. Maybe they believe the public had the right to know what this man sent. In the end, though, it is another blow to journalism.

Follow-up

Seems they've figured that out. But it's too late and, I suspect, they know it.
And shame on the newspapers that ran the posing gunman pictures on their front page. That, too, will cost the journalism profession.

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