I grew up in apartheid South Africa, where virtually all the normal rights accorded to citizens everywhere else were denied to those who were not White. If one was not White, myriad laws controlled every facet of life.
Not surprisingly, the apartheid government also wanted (and needed) to control the Whites too, to ensure they didn’t get any wayward ideas that segregation may not be the most desirable way to run a country. To this end, for example, South Africa didn’t get TV until 1976 – and even then what was shown was severely controlled.
Of course, since the apartheid government comprised mainly conservative Christians, it also had a very active censorship board. In our genre, wonderful mysteries by James McClure and Wessel Ebersohn were banned because they challenged the premise of segregation. It was rumoured that Anna Sewell’s famous book Black Beauty was initially taken off the bookshelves until someone discovered that it was about a horse! And if one wanted to read publications such as Playboy or participate in such soul-endangering activities as gambling, one had to travel to neighbouring Swaziland.
Although many of us were constantly aware of censorship, it was my first visit to The Netherlands in 1972 that really opened my eyes as to what a free press really meant. At that time Oh Calcutta was being staged in Amsterdam, and conservative groups were objecting to the on-stage nudity, particularly the male nudity. One evening I was watching the evening news, when the announcer reported on the protests. “And this is what they are objecting to,” he continued. The viewers were then shown 10 or 20 seconds of said nudity.
I remember being blown away by this trivial occurrence. This is how the news should be, I thought. It is the role of the news to show what is happening so people can make up there own minds.
Equally vivid is my memory of my first exposure to TV news in the United States later that year. I was shocked by the severe self-censorship – nothing was said or shown that would offend anyone – particularly sponsors. The disconnect between the USA being the home of the free, and the lack of spine of all news agencies was incredibly distressing. Even stodgy Britain did a better job.
My last blog, Je suis Charlie, here at Murder is Everywhere honoured those who died in the despicable events in Paris and endorsed what I regard as one of the most important attributes of a democracy, namely free speech. And millions of others did the same, which is laudable.
However, I continue to be really depressed by the hypocrisy I see prevalent throughout the West, often at universities, which should know better. Invited speakers are uninvited because students and staff disagree with their political or religious beliefs (for example Condoleezza Rice and Christine Lagard). Political correctness prevails, and disturbing the status quo is regarded as a negative rather than a strength. Television programs are pulled because sponsors threaten. Open debate is shunned. Instead, pushing one’s own agenda takes precedence over trying to find common ground. And making money pushes aside the basic tenets of a free society.
I am depressed by the actions of governments, organisations, and private citizens around the world to ban books. The list is frightening (see here), and the list continues to grow. I am even more depressed that citizenry allows banning to happen.
Why are so many people afraid of saying what they think? Why are so many people unwilling to listen to ideas they disagree with?
Je ne sais pas!
Maybe the ostrich isn’t as dumb as we think it is.
Maybe ignorance IS bliss!
Stan - Thursday