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Why I am against censorship

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads – GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

April 25, 2011

As a community journalist, my orientation is anti-censorship.

Because I was blessed with editors during the Tita Cory post EDSA revolution era whose dyed-in-the-wool adherence to freedom of press and expression was at fever-pitch, I could not countenance censorship when it was my turn to rock the chair as editor-in-chief of two daily newspapers – Sun Star and Daily Informer – during the Erap and Gloria administrations.

Even if some of their motives and principles were suspect, I could never in heaven’s name mangle or touch with a ten-foot pole the write-ups of our columnists – the opinion makers and so-called “catalysts” of change.

An eager beaver but wet-behind-ears radioman who wanted to dabble in print media, a vegetarian but malnourished penpusher who belonged to the Dinosaur Age, a male celibate university professor hiding in a female moniker, a dentist who loved to lecture about sex education.

Law partner

A frustrated politician who wanted to write a column so he could expose the inanities of a former law firm partner, an ex-convict who wrote poetry inside the jail, an ex-Maoist Lothario who permanently turned his back from the movement after a “rest and recreation”, a debonair but Quijotic brain doctor who wanted to preserve our native dialects. You name ‘em, we had ‘em.

I am a firm of believer of John Stuart Mill who said that “Even when the opinion is wrong, discussion should not be suppressed. Without such challenge and discussion, the true opinion would become nothing more than dogma – something believed on mere faith.”

Because of this personal principle, I even nixed suggestions to delete horny and irrational Facebook friends because I believe they too have the right to exist and express their opinions however weird and downright corny and illogical their ideas may be.

One of the best stories I read about the subject matter was the opinion made by Alejandro Roces. Actually, it was Hilarion Henares who started the series by stating that censorship originally started not to exorcise sex and violence, but to control religious and political views.

Prohibited books

The initial and most powerful censorship board in all history was the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books that started in 1557 about a century after Gutenberg’s movable type made books available to the public. The books condemned then are now popular classics – the novels of such authors Victor Hugo, Balzac, Dumas and Flaubert.

They were not considered pornographic. They just did not meet the political norms of the period.

Authors were often forced to change the identity of the characters in their books. Boccacio’s The Decameron was banned because the characters involved in illicit sex were priests and nuns. When he changed it to plain ladies and gentlemen, his books were removed from the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The very first film movie board censor was the British Board of Film Censors established in 1913 but still in operation to the day. In the United States, censorship was a state matter, but the Catholic Legion of Decency operated nationally.

Obscenity issues

Actually, the courts were deciding obscenity issues long before censorship came. As far back as 1868, Chief Justice Cockburn in a judgment in Regina vs. Hickins, said:

“The test of obscenity is this: whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

Pope Leo XIII in General Decrees Concerning the Prohibition and Censorship of Books, decreed: “Books which professedly treat of, narrate, or teach lewd or obscene subjects are prohibited. Care must be taken not only of faith but also of morals, which are easily corrupted by the reading of such books.”

And on March 31, 1930, the Code to Govern the Making of Motion and Talking Pictures by the Motion Picture Producers and Distribution of America, Inc. declared, “Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion is forbidden.”

This is the question that has become a major issue in our times. Where does artistic liberty end and where does obscenity begin?