Censorship And Right To Free Speech And Expression Philosophy Essay

Right of free speech, one of the fundamental building blocks of a liberal demo

Depression, as we shall see, poses a significant threat to the well being of many people in the UK and worldwide. It is considered to be one of the top five leading causes of disability throughout the world (Caspi et al, 2003: 386). It is surely right then that the body charged with providing adequate healthcare in the UK, the NHS, chooses the treatment considered to be the most appropriate and effective for this condition, and provides access to that treatment for those in need. This essay will place in context the political, economic and health-related pressures that have acted as drivers in the decision to make CBT the treatment of choice for depression. There will also be an exploration of the benefits and limitations of this decision and how this may impact on the client seeking help and the therapist responsible for providing the therapy within this treatment framework.

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The World Health Organisation report (2005), Mental Health – Facing the challenges: building solutions, clearly sets out the issues facing not just the UK but all countries belonging to the EU in terms of mental health issues. At the time of publication it was estimated that there were 100 million people suffering from anxiety or depression with a huge variation in levels of access to either psychiatrists or psychologists. Access to any form of treatment ranged from only 10% up to 45% in countries where more organised health care systems existed, these were mainly in Western European countries. Interestingly despite the recognition of need within the EU, the budget allocation for treating individuals with mental health issues, including depression, was on average only 5.8% of the total health expenditure and, perhaps shockingly, ranged from a mere 0.1% to 12% between different countries. What this report also draws attention to is that this money was focussed on treatment rather than on health promotion or prevention. Considering the personal, social and economic impact depression has then one may wonder if adequate resources have in fact been allocated and whether those resources are being used in the most effective way.

If we put this in context of the situation in the UK, it is estimated that 5% of the population are suffering from major depression at any one time with a further 5% presenting with milder episodes and 10% showing depressive tendencies. 3% are diagnosed by their GP each year, however the same number go unrecognised during their consultation with their GP and only 10% are referred for treatment (Paykel and Priest 1992:1192 – 3).

The WHO report, rather than initiating the discourse on treatment for depression, only added to the debate which occurred as a consequence of the publication of the Department of Health Report (2001) Treatment of Choice in Psychological Therapies and Counselling. This report provided guidelines for medical practitioners about the relevant therapies for depression (amongst other mental health disorders) and made clear recommendations for the use of CBT (and IBT). This was followed by several other related publications including the substantial NHS Strategic Review of Psychotherapy Services in England (Parry, 1996). Again the focus was on the provision of “coordinated, evidence-based, comprehensive, safe, and equitable provision of psychotherapy”. The reason why it is important to put the choice of CBT in context is that once a decision of such magnitude has been made it becomes difficult to retract it or revise it in any substantial way. It is obvious that there has been a huge investment in time, resources, creation of infrastructures and research to reach this decision so there is a lot of pressure and expectation on individuals, health organisations and government bodies to ‘make it work’. This of course can create the danger of making the patients ‘fit the ‘system’ rather than the ‘system’ meeting the needs of each individual patient.

Is this the view of a cynical observer or do the benefits really far outweigh any perceived limitations to individuals being referred for CBT treatment to alleviate their depression?

Firstly though, what exactly is depression? According to Paykel and Priest (1992:1198) depression is a description of a ‘continuum of phenomenon’ which ranges from everyday low moods to a more severe condition. They state that in almost all cases of depression there is a characteristic way of thinking; that of having persistent negative thoughts. Further, Abramson et al (1989:359) have put forward the theory of a sub set of depression, which they classify as ‘hopelessness depression’. This theory is based on the notion that depression is a complex group of disorders rather than a single disorder. Certainly it is clear that depression not only affects the way an individual thinks but also, their mood, levels of motivation, their behaviour and it also has biological effects such as poor sleeping patterns or loss of appetite (Trower, 1988: 122).

Given the spectrum of the condition and the uniqueness of the experience for each individual it comes as no surprise to find that many ‘tools’ have been devised to help practitioners assess the severity of depression. The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression devised in 1979 is a questionnaire containing 21 questions covering the range of factors relating to mood, behaviour and physical symptoms (http://healthnet). Possibly one of the best known scales is the Beck Depression Inventory published in 1961, which has stood the test of time in research studies (Weishaar, 1993:23). More recently patient health questionnaires (PHQ-9) have been devised and a successful study undertaken to assess effectiveness of telephone based assessment (Pinto et al, 2005:738). These are just three examples but suffice to say that many practitioners find these tools useful for assessment purposes when working with clients with depression.

So what is the theory behind Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and how does it benefit clients suffering from depression? Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck are the two main contributors to the development of CBT. There have been other significant contributors, for example, Donald Meichenbaum (1977), but for the purpose of this paper the focus will be on Ellis and Beck (Corey, 2001:318). Ellis developed what he called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Ellis believed that people with anxiety or depression held what he called ‘irrational beliefs’. For example, ‘my relationship has failed so all other relationships will fail’. These irrational beliefs are compounded by the fact that they tend to be held by the individual in a very rigid manner. They are considered to be ‘absolute, intolerant and demanding’ (Todd and Bohart, 1999:354). This tendency for either rational or irrational ways of thinking is, according to Ellis, a mixture of nature and nurture. Some individuals have a tendency for self defeating behaviour and thinking from birth with additional specific irrational beliefs learnt through childhood experiences. He also believed that self actualization is an inborn trait in some individuals but not in others, thereby allowing those without it to be easily defeated by thoughts and behaviours. Importantly Ellis argued that events weren’t the cause of people feeling anxious or depressed but rather it was their cognitions about the events, their perceptions that caused the distress. This certainly provides an explanation for why different individuals react so differently to a similar type of life event. In addition Ellis suggests that people develop ‘needs’ which in reality are actually ‘preferences’ and then develop rigid cognitions around them including, ‘I should..’, ‘I must…’, which Ellis calls ‘musturbatory thinking’. This creates further disturbance within an individual about an issue that they are already disturbed about. For example, they feel they ‘should’ be confident at all times so are disturbed by this thought. They have a pattern of negative thinking about their perception of their ability to be confident and the disturbance is exacerbated. (Corey, 2001: 306)

Beck, who is probably considered to have had most influence in the development of cognitive therapy, considers that individuals suffering from anxiety and depression have, what he calls, maladaptive cognitive processes. This is when the normal methods of processing information malfunction. This malfunctioning is ‘fed’ by negative beliefs, thoughts and ‘schemas’ that are often generated in childhood and then triggered by subsequent life events. Schemas are deeply held core beliefs and if negative are constructed in ways such as, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not lovable’. Negative automatic thoughts (NATs) are triggered by events but are based on these schemas, for example, ‘There is no point going to the party, because no one will like me’ (NAT) because ‘I am not good enough’ (schema) (Weishaar, 1993:55, Corey, 2001: 309 – 310). Hammen (1985 in Corey, 2001:363) makes the interesting assertion that schemas can be categorised between ‘dependent self schemas’ and ‘achievement self schemas’. With the former, depressed people will for example be affected by their perception of their dependency on others and will be affected by negative ‘interpersonal events’. Whereas the latter self schema relates to a sense of achievement, so negative thoughts and emotions will occur if a person feels they have not been ‘successful’. In addition such individuals generate other ‘cognitive distortions’ through a range processes. These include ‘catastrophising’, thinking of the worst scenario although there is no supporting evidence; selective abstraction, jumping to conclusions based on isolated detail which reinforces the negative view; ‘over generalisation’, applying a belief to every person/situation/event without supporting evidence; ‘magnifying or minimising’, perceptions are greater or lesser than the situation deserves; ‘personalisation’, always relating what happens externally to the person and assuming they have done something wrong; ‘labelling and mis-labelling’, choosing one’s own identity based on perceived imperfections; ‘polarisation’, everything is perceived in black or white or in absolutes (Corey, 2001: 311). Interestingly, Beck believed that anxiety and depression are maintained by what he describes as a ‘cognitive triad’. This is where an individual holds negative views about themselves, their future and the world at large or more specifically ‘their’ experiences within that world. What is important to note here is that it is the person’s ‘perceptions’ of the different aspects of the triad that create the interplay in maladaptive cognitions not necessarily the reality of the three aspects (Todd and Bohart, 1999: 346). Also Beck argued that depression isn’t caused by maladaptive cognitions, although they certainly maintain it, but rather the negative schemas being activated by life events. His view is that depression is caused by a complex mix of ‘genetic, biological, developmental, personality, environmental and cognitive factors (Beck ,1967 in Weishaar, 1993: 55). This certainly fits with Abrasom et al’s (1989) view of the complex interplay of factors in the theory of ‘hopelessness’ depression.

So why is the NHS so keen on CBT and what specific benefits does it provide for clients with moderate to severe depression? Well as mentioned earlier, costs and effectiveness are two of the main drivers for choosing specific treatments and CBT is considered by key decision makers to have adequate empirical evidence of its therapeutic effectiveness and has been compared to other forms of treatment and therapy. Equally it is considered to be a cost effective form of therapy because in essence it only relies on trained therapists operating from suitable premises with minimal other resources and it has been shown to be effective even when offered in a time limited fashion (Davies-Smith, 2006: 28; www.evidence.nhs.uk; Harrington et al, 1998:1559). There are however other views that in fact CBT is no more effective than other psychological treatments ( Wampold et al, 2002: 159) and that even were trials have appeared to ‘prove’ its effectiveness the researchers themselves state that the trial sizes are small (Harrington et al, 1998:1556). Interestingly one study on CBT which didn’t show it to be more effective was considered to be due to the fact that the therapists hadn’t received as much intensive supervision compared to other studies. This is an interesting angle when considering whether it is the therapy or the therapist that is having the effect and the consequences for adequate support and supervision for therapists, which undoubtedly would have a cost implication for the NHS (Elkin et al, 1989: 988).

Whether we agree with the various commentators or not the fact remains that currently CBT is the treatment of choice for depression. One significant benefit of this decision is a drive to recruit and train more therapists in order to provide access to what is considered to be suitable treatment. Considering the relative paucity of services as detailed in the WHO report (2005) this can only be a welcome result.

The benefits to clients undergoing CBT treatment for depression appear to be fairly well established through research as already discussed. The premise of contemporary CBT therapy is that it is firstly based on establishing a ‘therapeutic alliance’ between the client and the therapist. It is also based on challenging negative thoughts, assumptions and beliefs and providing activities and ‘homework’. These help the client understand the challenges which, in turn, aim to reconstruct their cognitive processes and ultimately provide a new, and hopefully lasting, awareness and set of functioning strategies. Implicit in this process is the requirement for the client to be a willing and active participant. It also requires appropriate skills in terms of literacy, articulation and adequate levels of motivation. Where these conditions exist therapists can help clients unpick their negative automatic thoughts and assumptions and tease out the schema that underpin them and then work on reconstructing the schema to a more positive and functional cognitive process (Trower et al, 2007:20).

CBT therapy is a very structured approach and where patients fully engage it has been shown to be effective. This is part of the reason why the NHS is able to set limits on the number of sessions as there is a clear therapy process with evidence of benefits. What is critical at the outset of the therapy is that the therapist is able to gather enough information about the presenting problem and to work with the client to undertake a detailed assessment so the scope and depth of the issue is clear to both parties. The ABC model is utilised and where used appropriately will provide, through a range of questioning techniques, an understanding of the activating events (A), which trigger the thoughts which, themselves, are underpinned by the beliefs (schemas), (B) and an identification of the consequences in terms of behaviour and emotions. Trower et al (2007:22) recommend using several ABC sheets as there may be different responses to different events but what it will reveal are belief ‘patterns’ that are common to the individual’s cognitive processes. The danger is that the therapist can get mired in irrelevant detail as clients will present with many negative thinking patterns so it is important to sift out the significant beliefs and work on those. This is important as it helps clarify the goals of the therapy (Davies-Smith, 2006:28). Beck stressed the importance of explaining the conceptual model to clients. He believed that by doing this is it stopped Cognitive Therapy being just a ‘set of techniques’ and meant that the therapeutic alliance between client and therapist would develop (Weishaar, 1993: 47). This would help ‘educate’ the client but at the same time they would benefit from that relationship. There is already a broad consensus that any therapeutic relationship based on respect and trust can in itself be ‘healing’ irrespective of the type of therapy offered (Mitchell and Cormack, 1998:51).

During the therapy sessions the therapist will utilise Socratic questioning. This technique allows elicitation of how thoughts link to feelings and behaviours from the client’s perspective, this is an important element of ‘learning’ for the client. Open questions such as, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ or ‘what does that mean for you? are part of the ‘guided discovery’ process. Once the negative thoughts and beliefs are exposed their ‘validity’ can be challenged. One method is to ask the client, ‘where is the evidence for that?’ (Davies-Smith: 2006:28). This process can be continued by the client between sessions as part of the ‘behavioural tasks’ set as homework. Utilising Beck et al’s (1979) Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts enables the person with depression to identify each activating event, their thoughts and feelings but also provide a ‘rating score’ for their belief and then to challenge themselves by providing a ‘rational’ response combined with an amended rating. Finally a re-evaluation of the original thoughts and feelings occurs (Beck 1979 in Weishaar, 1993: 76 – 77). All of the information that is gathered both within and in between the therapy sessions via ‘homework’ provides the therapist with a ‘case conceptualisation’ for the client. It may take several sessions to gather adequate information but once complete provides the therapist, and client, with the understanding, the ‘hypothesis’, of how core beliefs affect thoughts, assumptions and emotions. It provides the ‘problem list’ that needs to be focussed on during therapy. It is has been previously acknowledged how clients with depression may over generalise, catastrophise and believe that there is nothing in their life that is good. The use of an ‘activity schedule’ that details the sense of pleasure and achievement of every activity undertaken in a day can help shift this set of cognitions. It will show that they have had pleasure in what may be considered very simplistic tasks, such as walking the dog. However the act of writing it down and discussing it with the therapist helps reconstruct their world view. It can also be used to schedule activity, any form of ‘action’ is seen as a positive step for a person whose depression may have emotionally and physically immobilised them (Burns, 1999:77).

It seems that for people with depression there appears to be a systematic, effective form of treatment. Does it work for all clients with moderate to severe depression though and are there limitations even with clients perceived to be eminently suitable for CBT treatment?

Perhaps one of the major criticisms of CBT is that it only deals with the present and doesn’t focus on either issues held within the unconscious, or childhood experiences that are in the client’s awareness, even when there is an acknowledgment by the therapist or indeed the client, that this is where negative beliefs may have developed. The concern is that CBT is reduced to a form of ‘technique based’ therapy that provides ‘symptomatic relief’ rather than long lasting change. The argument against this is that where a skilled therapist is working in collaboration with the client and able to identify the core beliefs amongst what are often superficial negative thoughts, then deep and lasting cognitive reconstruction can occur. It is interesting to note that research undertaken to identify efficacy of integrating hypnosis with CBT, which can deal with childhood experiences both conscious and unconscious, appears to demonstrate that it enhances the effectiveness of the therapy, especially important where there is a time limit on sessions (Nolan, 200: 38). Importantly this research also identified other key therapy conditions, that of strong motivation levels and compliance in undertaking and completing homework. This is an important aspect to consider when working with clients who are depressed. Client’s depression may be as a consequence of ‘real’ social and economic conditions for which depression may be considered to be a perfectly ‘legitimate’ emotional response. It therefore isn’t necessarily an ‘irrational fear’ or even a ‘dysfunctional set of cognitive processes’ but a ‘normal’ reaction to a set of circumstances over which an individual may genuinely have little or no control. Sampson (1981: in Todd, 1999: 363) argues that the danger with the general application of CBT is that it assumes that distortions are within the individual and doesn’t take account of the very real ‘depressing’ situations that people find themselves in. Without due regard given to these situations, individuals can be made to feel as if they are to ‘blame’ for their plight and for the fact the cognitive ‘reconstruction’ may not work.

Even where the depression is being maintained by genuinely distorted perspectives and cognitions, the efficacy of CBT therapy still relies on clients being motivated enough to engage in what is essentially a set of problem solving activities. In addition the client also has to be willing to accept that there is a link between what and how they think and the way they feel and behave. This requires some level of ‘introspection’ which may not suit everyone and also a level of acceptance of self-responsibility, which again may not sit well with certain clients (Moorey in Dryden, 2007:309). There is evidence to suggest that for clients who accept and understand the theory of CBT, engage with the dialogue and homework and have some early success then a positive outcome is more likely ( Fennell and Teasdale, 1987:270). Importantly, basic literacy and functioning skills are critical to enable the client to engage and understand the ‘talking’ aspect of the therapy and to be able to undertake the homework tasks. There are seven million people in the UK with poor literacy and numeracy skills and therapists should not underestimate the impact this can have on an individual’s ability and willingness to understand and complete the homework tasks (Leitch 2006:10). There are some concerns that where depression is severe or of a chronic nature then CBT may not be as effective and may require medication to help improve a patients mood to the point at which they effectively engage (Moorey in Dryden 2007:308). This situation can be exacerbated when individuals have an ‘external’ locus of control, whereby they feel they have no control over events even when not in a depressed state (Banyard, 1996: 174).

In conclusion, it is probably fair to suggest that as with any therapy there is no guarantee of efficacy for all levels of depression in all individuals. As mentioned earlier the decision taken by the NHS to provide access to CBT has undoubtedly benefited many clients. The fact that there is significantly greater access to trained ‘therapists’ will prove helpful for many if only because it may be the first opportunity to share their anxieties and for someone to listen to them. Good rapport and a relationship built on trust and respect will in itself provide therapeutic benefits to clients with depression. The efficacy of CBT for many seems in little doubt and it continues to be subject to many research studies. There are still the concerns as detailed earlier that for some clients with severe to moderate depression, CBT on its own, or at all, may not be the therapy of choice and the ‘system’ must ensure that this is recognised and that appropriate treatment can be utilised rather than the NHS ‘machine’ churning out ‘cognitively reconstructed’ clients, who may then have to return to what many would consider to be depressing lives. The need for therapists to use whatever integrative and eclectic approach that truly meets the needs of their clients must remain a choice that therapists are able to make. Equally the need for therapists, agencies and government bodies to work together to ensure that individuals don’t fall foul of a ‘blame culture’ for economic and social situations that are surely out of their control. However, the contribution that Ellis and Beck have made must not be underestimated. They, and others, have contributed to the creation of a therapy that can be taught reasonably easily, can be understood by most clients and provides a clear, systematic, useful framework to enable both clients and therapists to work together to provide relief from the distress caused by depression (Todd and Bohart, 1999: 366).


Abramson, L. Y., Alloy, L. B. and Metlisky, G. I. (1989) Hopelessness Depression: A Theory Based Subtype of Depression Psychological Review Vol. 96. No. 2. pp. 358 – 372.

Banyard, P. (1996) Applying Psychology to Health London: Hodder and Stoughton

Beck, A. T. (1967) in Weishaar, M. E. (1993) Aaron T. Beck – Key Figures in Counselling and Psychotherapy London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Burns, D. (1999) The Feeling Good Handbook London: Penguin Group

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Mofitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Martin, J., Braithwaite, A., Poulton, R. (2003) Influence of Life stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene. Science Vol. No. 3. 18th July 2003. pp. 695 – 700.

Corey, G. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy (6th Ed) London: Brooks Cole

Davies-Smith, L. (2006) An Introduction to Providing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Nursing Times Vol. 102. No. 26. 27th June 2006. p. 28.

Department of Health(2001) Treatment of Choice in Psychological Therapies and Counselling at;


Elkin, I., Shea, T., Watkins, J.T., Imber, S.D., Sotsky, S. M., Collins, J. F., Glass, D. R., Pilkonis, P. A., Leber, W. R., Docherty, J. p ., Fiester, S. J. and Parloff, M. B. National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program Archives of General Psychiatry Vol. 46. November 1987. pp. 971 – 983.

Fennell, M. J. V. and Teasdale, L. D. (1987) Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Individual Differences and the Process of Change Cognitive Therapy and Research Vol. 11. pp. 253 -271.

Harrington, R., Whittaker, J., Shoebridge, P. and Campbell, F. (1998) Systematic Review of Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in Childhood and Adolescent Depressive Disorders British Medical Journal Vol. 316. 23rd May 1998. pp. 1559 – 1563.




Leitch, S ( 2006) Leitch Review of Skills – Prosperity for all in the Global Economy – World Class Skills at


Mitchell, A. and Cormack, M. (1993) The Therapeutic Relationship in Complementary Therapy London:Churchill Livingstone

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Paykel, E.S. and Priest, R.G. (1992) Recognition and Management of Depression in General Practice: a Consensus Statement. British Medical Journal Vol. 305, 14th November 1992. pp. 1198 – 1202.

Pinto-Meza, A., Serrano-Blanco, A., Penarrubia, M. T., Blanco, E. and Haro, J. M. (2005) Assessing Depression in Primary Care with the PHQ-9: Can it be carried out over the telephone? Journal of General International Medicine Vol. 20. No. 8. August 2005. pp. 738 -742.

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cracy, has often been at odds with the hindrance posed by censorship to the unabated exercise of such right. While the use of censorship as a weapon to stifle counter opinions has indeed been granted socio-political legitimacy in regimes authoritarian as well as liberal, nonetheless, the intrinsic importance of the role played by censorship as a shield rather than a sword can hardly be neglected. In course of this paper, the author intends to emphasize that the very divergent nature of social mores in different jurisdictions and across different regimes worldwide strengthens the necessity for existence of censorship, albeit in varying degrees to suit the differing requirements of the aforesaid regimes. Any attempt to evolve a universalistic practice has scarce little options other than to turn into more of a farcical legitimization of Super Power Hegemonies, owing to the blatant disregard of the said inherent diversities that such universalism is likely to enforce.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall [1]

“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

Noam Chomsky [2]

“…When compared with the suppression of anarchy every other question sinks into insignificance. The anarchist is the enemy of humanity, the enemy of all mankind, and his is a deeper degree of criminality than any other. No immigrant is allowed to come to our shores if he is an anarchist; and no paper published here or abroad should be permitted circulation in this country if it propagates anarchist opinions.”

Theodore Roosevelt [3]

Free Speech and Censorship – A Brief Introduction

Free Speech is one of the constitutional guarantees of a liberal democracy – a right recognized by all International Human Rights Documents. It is an amalgamation of the Right to Freedom of Conscience, Thought, Choice and the ultimate expression, without being subjected to arbitrary blocks on its enjoyment, in the form of Censorship.

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Censorship, on the other hand, is the process of imposing checks, direct or indirect, governmental or otherwise, on the exercise of one’s Right to Free Speech. Apparently, this phenomenon can be perceived as a blunt curb on one’s basic Right to Liberty, but on another plane, it can be looked at in the form of a necessary evil – a limitation on one’s Human Rights in order to uphold the Community’s Human Rights. The broad social purposes of censorship can be laid down as to ensure that ordinary members of the community are not affronted by the display of material to which a majority of reasonable adults would object, to maintain a level of public decency, and to avoid the undesirable social effects which may flow from the “normalisation”, by its use in entertainment or other dissemination, of undesirable material. [4]

This paper aims to look at the interconnected nature of the two, keeping in mind the inherent diversities in different socio-political systems, and varied constructions of the two phenomena – ultimately leading to the unmistakable impressions about the questions of Democracy, Politics and Power.

In course of this article, the author has accepted as a foundational hypothesis the fact that throughout history and across jurisdictions, it has been noted that Censorship has been more often than not used to suppress counter-opinions – be it political or religious; this practice has been conferred political and legal legitimacy in jurisdictions alike, be it the most Authoritarian or the most Democratic of regimes. Suffice to say that more often than not, Censorship has been used as a sword rather than as a shield. However, this does not take away the intrinsic value of the check. Indeed, the need for Censorship is evident from the divergent nature of the social mores, albeit differently in different jurisdictions – trying to evolve a universalistic practice would thus disregard these inherent diversities, and would be more of a farcical legitimization of super power hegemonies.

Categories of Censorship

Paul O’ Higgins distinguishes Censorship into the following types [5] :

Autonomous – Self-censorship brought about by conscious or unconscious motives, which makes an individual wither to refrain from expressing his or her views or alter the same.

Social – Discouragement of the expression of certain ideas, either through socialization or sanctions, which lead to the emergence of taboos.

Legal – Enforcement of restraint by legal institutions such as the government, police and the courts – prior censorship or penal censorship.

Extra-legal – Telephone Tapping, d-notices, limited release of information about defendant at trial.

Voluntary – When an institution with shared common beliefs lays down upon constituents limitations on what they should or should not say or do, without sanctions – Press Council norms, etc.

Subterranean – When an individual or institution uses powers set aside for another purpose to impose censorship without direct government involvement – political censorship.

Free Speech and Censorship – An International Human Rights Recognition

Free Speech is an internationally guaranteed Civil and Political Right. However, this Right is subject to Reasonable Restrictions in the form of Censorship in most Human Rights Treaties and Systems. The main reason that can be attributed to such restraint is the requirement of public policy – the apprehensions about the abhorrent effects that an unbridled exercise of this Right may produce. Given below is a list of the provisions from different Human Rights Treaties – both International and Regional, which deal with the Human Right to Free Speech, and the operation of Censorship upon it.

Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 19, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – (1) Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. (2) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. (3) The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

General Comment No. 10 (29/06/83): – Paragraph 1 requires protection of the “right to hold opinions without interference”. This is a right to which the Covenant permits no exception or restriction. Paragraph 2 requires protection of the right to freedom of expression, which includes not only freedom to “impart information and ideas of all kinds”, but also freedom to “seek” and “receive” them “regardless of frontiers” and in whatever medium, “either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Paragraph 3 expressly stresses that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and for this reason certain restrictions on the right are permitted which may relate either to the interests of other persons or to those of the community as a whole.

Article 10, European Convention on Human Rights – (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises. (2) The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Article 13, Inter-American Convention on Human Rights – (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice. (2) The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: (a) respect for the rights or reputations of others; or (b) the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals. (3) The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions. (4) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence. (5) Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.

Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression – Freedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals. Additionally, it is an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society… Every person has the right to seek, receive and impart information and opinions freely under terms set forth in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. All people should be afforded equal opportunities to receive, seek and impart information by any means of communication without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition…Prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law. Restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression…Prior conditioning of expressions, such as truthfulness, timeliness or impartiality, is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression recognized in international instruments.

These inherent variations in the level and nature of governmental control over Freedom of Expression – also accounted for in the National Constitutions, Statutes and Judicial Decisions – collectively constitute the subject-matter of an interesting study, especially in light of the fact that they are also indicative of the extent of democratization and totalitarianism inherent in these countries. Thus, the First Amendment to the US Constitution [6] and the Glavlit System of Pre-Censorship existent in former USSR and many East European Countries [7] , throw light on two different ends of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle lies the Brit-ECHR system of giving a bag full of Rights, and then putting sufficient, and very often, more than sufficient, restrictions on their enjoyment.

These variations are the results of the systems of governance and the Historical Evolution of Free Speech in these national jurisdictions – inasmuch as they account for an enormous blow upon those who tend to argue about the Universalistic Nature of International Human Rights.

Censorship and Free Speech – A Nexus with Questions of Power, Authority, Liberty and Democracy: A Comparative Critique of World Systems and Disputes of Theories

John Locke, one of the Founding Fathers of the Liberal View, advocated a Minimalist State intervention regime in his Life, Liberty and Property, which, according to him, were inalienable rights. [8] John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Marketplace of Ideas stated that if we suppress an opinion, it may turn out to be true. To assume otherwise is to assume that we are infallible, which is not the case [9] . According to O.W. Holmes, “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out…” in Abrams v. U.S. [10] where, in his dissenting judgement, he also laid down that a governmental regulation on Free Speech is only justified where it is used to dispel a clear and immiment danger. Otherwise, the market should be left to determine the veracity of the assertion. This opinion of Holmes was later accepted by the US Supreme Court when it overturned Abrams [11] and upheld Holmes’ Clear and Imminent Danger Theory in Brandanburg v. Ohio [12] during the Vietnam War. According to Prof. Rodney O. Smolla [13] , Free Speech Serves Five Purposes in a Democracy: (a) As a means of participation, (a) Serving the purpose of Truth, (c) Facilitating majority rule, (d) Providing Restraint on Tyranny and Corruption by keeping the Government in Check, and (e) ensuring stability by allowing minority voices to be heard. [14]

However, the Marketplace of Ideas rationale for Freedom of Speech has been criticized by scholars on the grounds that it is wrong to assume the assertion that all ideas will enter the marketplace of ideas, and even if they do, some ideas may drown out others merely because they enjoy dissemination through superior resources. The marketplace is also criticized for its assumption that truth will necessarily triumph over falsehood. It is visible throughout history that people may be swayed by emotion rather than reason, and even if truth ultimately prevails, enormous harm can occur in the interim. Alan Haworth, in his book Free Speech (1998) [15] , has suggested that the metaphor of a marketplace of ideas is misleading. He opines that Mill’s classic defence of free speech does not develop the idea of a market (as later suggested by Holmes) but essentially argues for the freedom to develop and discuss ideas in the search for truth or understanding. In developing this argument, Haworth says, Mill pictured society not as a marketplace of ideas, but as something more like a large-scale academic seminar. This implies the need for tacit standards of conduct and interaction, including some degree of mutual respect. That may well limit the kinds of speech that are justifiably protected.

Political Extremism and Censorship

This is an issue that is very essential and relevant in the contemporary world – the question whether one should allow a platform for Fundamentalist and Extremist Organizations like the Al Qaida to propagate freely their views through their Private Television – the Al Jazeera TV, or ought there be governmental curbs on such broadcasting. An interesting debate on this subject had been voiced in the May, 1994 issue of The Guardian [16] , where two noted columnists argued on a similar issue related to providing a platform to the extremist British Nationalist Party.

According to Seamus Milne [17] , who advocated a curb on the BNP’s Right to Free Speech, the BNP necessarily violates the Human Rights of a large section of the population, and, by doing so, it has justified the abridgement of their Right to Freedom of Speech. The ‘oxygen of publicity’, if given to them, would help the spread of racism.

On the other hand, Polly Toynbee [18] argued that the banning of a particular group may set a precedent by which any group that does not conform to a norm is rendered prone to a similar ban. According to him, “Free Speech is not absolute – but we must be free to speak our political minds, and listen to political opinions of others, however nasty.” [19] This statement of his has an uncanny resemblance to the Marketplace of Ideas Theory, thereby highlighting its relevance in the contemporary world.

Use of ‘Offensive Language’ on College Campuses

The issue was the imposition of a Speech Code – banning the use of ‘offensive language’ at Stanford University.

According to Gerald Gunther [20] , “Speech should not and cannot be banned simply because it is ‘offensive’ to substantial parts of, or a majority of, a community. The refusal to suppress offensive speech is one of the most difficult obligations the free speech principle imposes upon all of us; yet it is also one of the First Amendment’s greatest glories – indeed, it is a central test of a community’s commitment to free speech.”

However, Charles Lawrence [21] opined that restrictions reflected genuine demands from students from minority ethnic groups, who had through harassment been denied the Right to Equality of Education. Being a supporter of the Hobbesian Principle of a Right for a Citizen to expect from the State Security of Person, Lawrence was thus advocating the same guarantee from a Welfare State, be it at the cost of restricting the offensive operation of some others’ unrestricted Right.

Pornography, Sexuality and Obscenity – an analysis of the Changing Voices

This is an area where views and opinions have a range encompassing a whole spectrum. For some, pornography is a threat to a moral order, whereas for others, it is a mark of emancipation from bondages.

The Libertarians seek to uphold individual freedoms and oppose state interference. According to then, State’s authority to make laws is only pertaining to the Public Sphere – and not on the individual choices and preferences in the Private Sphere (The First Amendment Assertion has been illustrated by Justice Thurgood Marshall in Stanley v. Georgia [22] where he says that if First Amendment means anything at all, “it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he must read or what films he must watch”. This liberal fundament was also supported by the Wolfendon Committee Report in the UK. (H.L.A. Hart had also been a known supporter of a similar view and had argued for a separation of the private and the public spheres [23] ). Sexual repression is itself more damaging than sexual openness, according to the Libertarian view.

However, according to Conservatives, Pornography is a threat to ‘moral order’ and stability, and the material itself is disgusting and unworthy of publicity. Moreover, the Conservatives believe that State is empowered to pass laws controlling both Public and Private activities, as has been evident from Devlin’s dissent to the findings of the Wolfendon Committee [24] .

If one looks at the Feminist Movements, and the jurisprudence emerging there from, history shows changes and evolutions at every stage. Traditionally, feminists have supported the liberal cause, celebrating the need to discover the body and sexuality as a tool of emancipation from bondages. In the 1970s, Realist feminists stressed that pornography was not only damaging to women’s status in society, but also dangerous to their safety. Thus, pornography not only provides the foundations for, but also is, violence against women. [25] Hence, according to the Liberal Feminists, pornography is not essentially a question of mere censorship, but a question of the women’s Human Rights as a whole. [26] However, the 1990s have seen a shift in the trend. Avedon Carol [27] has claimed that women are suppressed not because of pornography but because of censorship. Wendy McElroy [28] has warned that anti-pornography legislations might result in a backlash against Feminism. Jean Seaton [29] has suggested that the Realist feminists run the risk of losing touch with the roots of feminism, in the Civil Liberties and emancipatory movements. Melissa Benn [30] argues that the problem is one of structural sexism, and censoring pornography would not solve the problem. Instead, anti-sexist laws need to be established.

The underlining philosophy behind the divergent philosophies is the fact that while one looks at the issue of censorship, one can look at it from two distinct planes – the Moralist plane, identifying the evils contained in what needs or needs not to be censored; and a Causalist plane [31] , which would need to look at the effects of the commission or omission of Censorship. The decades of the Feminist Movement indicated drastic shifts in views, from the Moralist Plane to the Causalist Plane, and vice versa – thereby leading to the wide divergence in opinions.

The Use or Non-Use of Censorship in Different Regimes

This section is a skeletal overview of the existing politico-judicial approaches towards Free Speech and Censorship on select issues in the US, UK, former USSR and India, which would adequately throw light on the kind of governance and degrees of guarantee of Human Rights in the individual regimes. Interesting to note, the instances referred to would be more of acts of a Subterranean Censorship – imposition of Censorship through means not directly aimed at doing so.




Former USSR


Speech that may lead to Rioting, i.e. localized violence

Edwards v. South Carolina [32] :

Clear and Present Danger Test.

New York Times v. US [33] :

Prior Restraints on Speech and Press are constitutionally very suspect.

Wise v. Dunning [34] :

Anyone who utters something that is likely to lead to violence can be punished.

Street Corner Orator? Anti State Speeches? Unheard of. Reports about Soviet Police disallowing observance of Human Rights Day…tells a tale…

A/19 (2): Public Order a ground for imposing restrictions. S/144, CrPC a tool for imposing preemptive indirect censorship.

Counter Doctrines and Subversive Groups

Anti-Communist Activities in the 40s supported by legislations like the Smith Act and Supreme Court Decisions like Dennis v. US [35] where the evil produced by such Speech was ‘Grave and not Improbable’. However, situations changed post-Brandanberg.

Concept of ‘seditious libel’ – R v. Aldred [36] . Any incitement to use force against State was seditious libel.

Soviet Criminal Code punished ‘Agitation or propaganda carried out with the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet Regime…’ essentially, anti-Communist Campaigns.

Preventive Detention Act, s/124A of the IPC and, on a broader political plane, imposition of A/356 on grounds of Breakdown of Constitutional Machinery.

Criticism of the Government and Public Officials

New York Times v. Sullivan [37] :

No punishment if actual malice cannot be proved.

Initially, strong Contempt of Court Jurisdiction, even in case of Fair Criticisms of Judicial procedures and decisions – R v. Editor of New Statesman [38] . However, standards of stringency notably lower now.

No difference between criticism and subversion – hence, repression was the result.

Sullivan standards not followed. Contempt and Privilege very strong tools in the hands of the State. Moreover, imposition of MISA and Repressive Press Laws during Emergency.

Sexually Oriented Materials

Miller Test [39] – liberal standards.

Hicklin Test [40] – Rigidity.

Strict pre-Censorship of Pornographic Material by the Glavlit.

Largely influenced by Hicklin – gradual liberalization post Bandit Queen.

The obvious conclusion that emerges out of an analysis of this Table is that the US is the Country which, through the Constitutional Assertion of the First Amendment and a liberal, yet vigilant judiciary, and a Democratic Governance system, been the highest protectors of the Free Speech Rights. Admitted that the events of 9/11 have forced the US to make more stringent laws often aiming to curb Personal Liberties, but still, it has been a guiding light in the direction ahead, at least it seems so.

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But, how true is this assertion? Is it, like much other propaganda, only an ideological and hegemonic whitewash of the only surviving superpower? The list of incidents below, which deals with Governmental acts of subversion of the voice of conscience in the US and other Western Countries is self-explanatory [41] : –

Voice of America, a federally supported international broadcasting organization, decided not to air a story that included parts of a rare interview with the leader of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Those who deny that the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel, its use of extrajudicial executions against Palestinian gunmen, the Israeli gunning down of schoolboy stone-throwers, the wholesale theft of Arab land to build homes for Jews, is in some way wrong would like all criticism of Israel to be labeled as “anti-Semitic” thus branding the critic’s statements as heinous and unworthy of consideration.

Military autopsy reports provide indisputable proof that detainees are being tortured to death while in US military custody. Yet the US corporate media are covering it up.

Dr. Elsebeth Baumgartner currently faces up to 109 years in prison in the U.S. state of Ohio for her criticism of, and accusations of corruption against, government officials in Ohio.

In Canada, school teachers have limited freedom of speech, both on and off the job, regarding certain issues (e.g., homosexuality). Chris Kempling was suspended without pay for writing letters, on his own time, to a local newspaper to object to LGBT-related material being introduced into public schools. Kempling pursued the freedom of speech issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada without success.

By the Official Secrets Act, the London government has the power, throughout the UK, to order that certain subjects are abs


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