chapter  10
25 Pages

Constitutive censorship: News, language and culture

This book has concerned itself with a relatively simple idea: the notion that there is both historically and philosophically a significant set of tensions between freedom of speech and the generally assumed associated freedoms of the press. Furthermore, the control or suppression of these freedoms are usually perceived as essentially external mechanisms of control via regulation. As we have seen the traditional liberal view of the development of ‘free’ media frames it largely in terms of a struggle first against the authoritarian control of the ancien regime, then as a gradual process of liberalisation as nation states moved from autocratic rule towards democratic institutions and the idea that democratic societies require a neutral state through which a free media can operate. In other words, the legal and political structures of democratic societies have developed to encompass a free media as part and parcel of the machinery of democratic societies. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in particular, it is argued, oil the wheels of democracy and enable it to function according to its central tenets. We have seen throughout this book examples of formal controls and structural impediments which can impact on the ability of the news media to function fully in the service of its democratic imperative. However, as stressed throughout, to conceive

of the modes of censorship already discussed solely in such formal and structural terms is to miss the more subtle and nuanced ways in which censorship is conceived. The quote from Orwell gives a clue regarding the direction and focus of this chapter as it attempts to focus more specifically on informal mechanisms of control and censorship, thereby further stressing the dynamic nature of censorship. Much of the focus here therefore will be on language and its significance as an aspect of censorship. Language is particularly significant to journalism as Zelizer (2004a: 111) points out: ‘As journalism has progressed towards increasingly complex systems of information relay, the notion of what constitutes a journalistic language has grown as well.’ As such we can discern a distinctive realm of language pertinent to journalism. This chapter examines the ways in which language functions as a means of control and censorship. This picture of language and its deployment as a component of power relationships is not simple to paint; however, we will see that informal censorship as linguistic norms and conventions should be considered within the parameters of censorship. The chapter begins with a brief examination of news values within journalism

before going on to examine French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of the journalistic field. This is particularly important in the discussion of language as he maintains that journalism, like other professions, operate within specific ‘fields of cultural production’ that not only shape the language and discourse within the particular field, but also account for the particular structures of power that journalism operates within. The discussion of discourse is also of significance as it contributes to an understanding of language and its relationship to power. As such the chapter moves on to examine discourse and power and frame these within other studies which have explored the particular power of discourse within the news. Following this I move on to discuss the impact of so-called political correctness or ‘PC’. Often debates about PC shift into emotive language about Orwellian thought control and censorship. However, drawing on some particularly insightful literature, it is suggested that the actual debate about PC, particularly from the right, is itself an attempt to limit language and control debate within the context of specific contestations over reality. We then go on and discuss the topic of freedom of speech and religion. Of course, not a topic central to debates within journalism until the so-called Danish cartoons controversy which seemed to highlight the so-called clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. Here I will look beyond this simplistic theorisation and draw on important debates about multiculturalism and identity politics. The chapter concludes with an overview of Orwell’s understanding of the power of language to structure thinking and drift into propaganda. Orwell is important here as he draws attention to the constraining power of language, particularly in relation to its power to misdirect and confuse. What is crucial here is the emphasis on language as a potent limiting force and its capacity to act to coerce and constrain through the mechanism of constitutive censorship.