The Banning Trend

I recently read an article on how some of the “top” universities’ students’ unions have banned The Sun from being sold on campus. Now, let me get something straight, I am not a fan of the The Sun by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s a pretty woeful publication and I would never purchase it. However, seeing that it has been banned has really got me questioning why exactly this practice of universities banning things has caught such momentum. Why is this a thing that keeps happening?

Okay so, yes, The Sun is an awful publication, run by a big monopolising corporation, that sensationalises everything, publishes lies, objectifies women.. (What was that point I was trying to make again?) Oh yeah, BUT, if universities BAN the newspaper what difference is that making exactly? I am a strong believer in the freedom of speech and The Sun, as detestable as it might be has every right to continue publishing just as I have every right to post this article. By banning the publication it is doing nothing to solve the terrible things about the newspaper, if you’re going to ban it you may as well just pretend it doesn’t exist because, and I should definitely make this clear, that it WILL be available in other shops that aren’t on university campus, where students can y’know go into and PURCHASE it (WHAT?!)

The same goes for the recent censorship of Blurred Lines by the glorious (that definitely WAS sarcasm) Robin Thicke which many, many universities including my own have actually banned from being played on campus. For a long time I was very conflicted about whether I agreed with it being banned or indeed if I agreed with any music being banned, because again it is acting as though it doesn’t exist. I came to the conclusion that I don’t actually agree with it being banned. I am a firm believer that retaliation is a much better means of tackling the problem hands on as opposed to what is the equivalent of covering your ears and shouting. If you have a problem with the song you have the means and the capabilities to speak up about that, get the message out & PROVE why it’s terrible, why it objectifies women, shapes a rape culture and everything else that’s woeful about that song. Shape and continue to shape opinion of that terrible song so that it the majority’s collective, personal distaste for the song becomes the reason for it disappearing from consciousness and playlists as opposed to pretending it doesn’t exist in a tiny section of a town or city. Like other shops selling The Sun, other nightclubs CAN play that song and will.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the merits of banning The Sun and Blurred Lines. It will foster the message that it’s a terrible publication and a terrible song. It will tarnish the reputations of the two making both students and society to some degree less inclined to purchase The Sun and/or listen to the song. However, it needs to be remembered that it’s universities that are banning the publication and the song. I love the reputation of university being a place of heated debate, activism, formation of ideas and opinions and discovering our own opinions on things. An environment that simply perceives something negative and puts on blinkers or earplugs to block it out instead of rising against it isn’t in line with that brilliant reputation universities have. So please, let’s take the blinkers off and the ear plugs out.

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Knowledge is Power

The more I read news articles these days the more horribly paranoid and conscious I become of the Orwellian, dystopian nightmare world of his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Call me melodramatic, but recent moves for censorship of the internet is the beginning of such a culture however elaborate this link may seem. If I think back to the censorship programmes installed on computers in secondary school, they were an absolute hinderance to research and learning. Websites were filed into categories namely ‘nudity’ (but some were slightly more dubious such as the ‘occult’) They were often blocked for the most minute of connections (mostly keywords or swear words). These programmes ensured limited access to websites and therefore, information.

The central motivation of the government filter (which will come into effect this month), is to protect the eyes of children from seeing pornographic content. This seems on the surface, a reasonable motivation for censorship. The problem is that the god-like power of selecting what we do and do not see in our day to day lives is being placed in the hands of a select few, the definition of what is pornographic and negative to the eyes of children, becomes skewed by the authoritative opinion of this select few.

In an article for the Guardian, Laurie Penny has outlined how ” Sites that were found to be inaccessible when the new filtering system was launched last year included in some cases helplines like Childline and the NSPCC, domestic violence and suicide prevention services” This is just an example of the kind of extension of definitions that can and WILL occur from government filtering. Does the noble cause of protecting against pornography and obscene images seem like such a good idea now? The fresh and more dangerous potentialities of allowing power into the hands of a select few is something vastly more worrying than children seeing pornographic images. No one seemingly worries about the (let’s face it, FAR more easily accessible) page 3 of The Sun newspaper (among other publications) that boasts of a different topless lady each day. All it takes is a child to pick up that newspaper be it in a shop or at home, to see such images. If the worry of the effects of pornography on impressionable children was such an ardent issue in the hearts of the government, page 3 would have been done away with a long time ago.

The central issue here is not protecting children, it is the government’s need for monopolisation of the information available to us. Do not be lulled into the comforting thought that children are at the heart of the cause here. This bid for government filtering is the need of a select few to feed information deemed acceptable to us. The extension of definitions of what is bad and what is acceptable is not something to be chosen by anyone other than ourselves. It is also not the duty of the government to protect impressionable children (last I heard that’s what parents and guardians were for? Just putting that out there.)

May I also remind anyone who so chooses to read this, of how ten year’s worth of speeches and press releases promising a better, fairer country from a Conservative government were deleted from archives. This kind of filtering, the cutting and pasting of what information the population can and cannot see, is simply a taste of what is to come if government internet filtering is allowed to be implemented without any objection. It is an insult to the intelligence of individuals in society, as is the idea that without government intervention, children will watch pornography as if parents are non existent. It is ludicrous when you consider the issue in this sense.

It is appropriate that the much slammed Thought of The Day on Radio 4 yesterday, from Julian Assange happened to be this:

“Knowledge is power. To keep a person ignorant is to place them in a cage. So it follows that the powerful, if they want to keep their power, will try to know as much about us as they can, and they will try to make sure that we know as little about them as is possible.”

Keep this in mind as the bid for internet filtering gains momentum. The monopolisation of information is unnatural and it is something to be rallied against. The internet is an equaliser, anyone can contribute to it and anyone can access it. We are at a time when the acquirement of information through the internet is at its most efficient, useful and relied upon. Do not sit back and let that be mutated.