Cristina Abela – Does media freedom mean being able to say what you like without being censored?

Whenever freedom of any kind is being debated, the idea of freedom of speech is always put forth. Freedom of speech is the idea that people have the right to say anything without being censored. Many people believe that in order to have freedom in a medium, they need to be able to express any opinion they have without interference.

In this argument there are two sides, the side of the medium and the side of the individual who uses the media. From the side of the individual, it is very easy to get caught up in the idea that you should be able to do and say whatever you want on any media platform. One thing people do not think of is that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences. If we look at this in the realm of real life, we cannot actually say whatever we want. If you call your boss a “bitch” or tell someone that you are going to kill them, you do not simply get away with it. These words have consequences, one being the person reporting you for threatening them and maybe going to jail and the other is you being fired from your job. This is also true in media. Now that media has become so ingrained in our society, many things we experience online become a part of our real life. Whenever you post something, unless it is anonymously, it becomes a part of your permanent record. The time you said how much you hate your boss, the picture you posted when you were super drunk, those moment will be seen by co-workers, potential employers, and potential lovers.

Within real life we also have censorship, not in the same way that we do in media but the social norms we have are our censorship. You cannot say something offensive or rude to someone, not because someone specifically told you not to, but because it is social unacceptable and so you do not say it to begin with. This form of censorship is even more powerful as it stops you before you even think of saying it so it is you who is censoring yourself.

Within the side of the media in the argument of censorship, the media itself is an entity which has its own morals. The organisation is not made up of robots who are unbiased and are not affected by what is said on their platform. These platforms need money and they need to pay their workers. If they let anyone say anything including offensive things, this can get the organisation in trouble.  Therefore, they have every right to censor that person to safeguard their company. No one has the “right” to a platform, we have freedom of speech in real life but within a private organisation they have their rules which you have to follow. The platforms need to be able to make money to keep their platform running and the majority of money comes from investors and advertisers. If they decide that they no longer want to give money to the company because they do not like how they do something, the platform will try to change to keep the investors. There are some censorships which the medium would legally have to do. For example, if there is a terrorist group or a group which shows videos of people dying, the medium can be seen as allowing this group to form and it can get in trouble with the law.

One big change I remember as a kid was, in the mid-2010s, many youtubers were complaining about censorship. This is because during that time YouTube changed their rules of censorship, they said that the creators should not swear, discuss controversial or sexual topics and many others. This was because advertisers did not like that their adverts were being shown before videos with controversial topics as it made it look as though the organisation was in favour of the content. In this situation censorship was not due to the media wanting to “control” what their content creators say but instead a response to monetary profits going down.

To conclude this discussion, we need to recognise that in no world will we ever have zero censorship, this is because not every opinion someone has can ever truly be “just an opinion”. If there was no censorship on the media, we would have to allow people to bully people online, release people’s personal information, and target marginalised groups to attack them. Censorship does not necessarily mean that nobody can say anything and that you need to be careful what you say. It should instead be seen as respecting others and trying to be aware of how your opinion can affect them. If something is offensive or goes against the regulations, we need to be aware and censorship helps do just that.