Censorship Bureau

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"It's my job to protect you, the viewer, from reality."

The FOX Censor, The Simpsons
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A self-governing body with a censorship code, most visible (and most likely to receive mention) when that code is so draconian and unreasonable in its restrictions that it cripples an entire artistic medium. It usually comes about due to the pleas of the Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs, but sometimes, it will come about due to some other circumstances (e.g. the beliefs of a specific corporation); regardless, the presence of such a Censorship Bureau will be a bane to the medium and usually result in it not being taken seriously.

Note that most of these were created so that an even more draconian code wouldn't be forced on the medium from outside (although with many of these examples, it's hard to imagine how they could be any worse).

This article from The Other Wiki lists government media rating organizations from around the world.

See also Animation Age Ghetto for a similar phenomenon.

Examples of Censorship Bureau include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Youth Ordinance Bill, presented to the Tokyo City Government was passed and is currently[when?] enacted to stop children from purchasing what the government believes to be or exactly like porn.
    • The law severely restricts manga/anime that have deemed "sexually deviant" by cutting off publishers from financial backing of other organizations.
    • Basically, anime and manga are now heavily regulated by the government.
    • The more hilarious aspect of this law is that this is the reason why you see little lines over private parts in porn. Tentacles are also exempt from this law since they are not actual "equipment".

Comics

  • The Comics Code, as outlined in its own article. The problems this created in plotting led to such, uh, gems as "Lois Lane, the Fattest Girl in Metropolis!".
  • In France, the law about publications intended for youth was really strictly enforced in 50s to 80s. Guns were sometimes replaced by pointed fingers with no explanation. Foreign comics were banned under any pretense (sometimes because censors were convinced these comics were violent or immoral, sometimes just because they didn't want foreign comics) — not just non-Europeans, even Belgian ones, which is funny because most French honestly believe some major Belgian comics to be French. It was so bad that Spirou magazine had some series whose main purpose was to enhance their image for Censorship Bureau — which for example, glared at Buck Danny because the hero was American.

Film

  • The "Hays Office" was this for American films during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was established in 1922 as the movie industry's answer to state censorship initiatives, but the Hays Code wasn't much enforced until 1933. Joseph I. Breen succeeded Will H. Hays in 1945. The office was finally dissolved in 1968.
  • Nowadays, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) must approve every film and DVD released in the UK. Items not approved may not be legally sold. This created a controversy in 2007 over the "banning" of the video game Manhunt 2. It should be noted that the BBFC nowadays concentrates on age-rating films, and officially declares that the only thing that will get a film banned outright nowadays is rape and torture filmed in an overtly erotic way.
  • Goskino censored many Soviet films, such as those of Andrei Konchalovsky and Andrei Tarkovsky.

New Media

  • The "P5" of TV Tropes, in the name of making the website "Family Friendly"—though really it's for making the website advertiser friendly. They also claim that what they do is not censorship, because they're not a government. To refute this assertion, see the Hays Code entry above and the Nintendo entry below.
  • The Internet, in many countries, has brought greater freedom of expression by comparison to the "freedom of the press for anyone who owns one" era of print (where several large publishing houses control most of the book market) and broadcast (where access to the few, scarce available frequencies is tightly controlled by governments). In what is otherwise an era of dangerous concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few large Mega Corps, New Media is a breath of fresh air... which a whole lot of Amoral Attorneys are trying their utmost to strangle at birth. Among the weak points:
    • Governments in totalitarian countries are prone to order Internet service providers to block access to individual sites. Roskomnadzor is bad for this in Russia. Communist China is worse, with the "Great Firewall of China" (officially, "Golden Shield Project") deploying massive infrastructure to censor everything. North Korea is worse, as most simply have no access to international telephone calls or the outside Internet at all.
    • Frivolous legal threats are a good way to make perfectly-lawful content disappear from the Internet, or at least from the first page of Google's search results. If every Amoral Attorney knows that a weasel-worded letter making all manner of thinly-veiled legal threats may be purchased in any law office for a moderate fee, but the cost of defending against even a frivolous lawsuit in anything higher than a small claims court can rapidly spiral into the five-figure range, there is very little consequence to systematically lying to webmasters to claim lawful content to be illegal as a means to make it vanish.
    • The large US cinema and music publishers have lobbied to create some very consumer-unfriendly law, including the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Just send in a claim "under penalty of perjury" that some page violates your content, and the content disappears... because, if it doesn't, the upstream provider loses safe harbour against being blamed for the actions of individual users. Of course, in the real world, the supposed penalty of perjury effectively does not exist or is impossible to obtain, so there's no downside at all to submitting frivolous, fraudulent or bogus DMCA notices. The tactic is sleazy but it works.
    • Libel laws in various countries have a really dubious history; they originated in medieval times, when knights used them to silence peasants from speaking out against misdeeds the nobles did commit. They've been cleaned up a bit since then, depending on jurisdiction, but in some places they do still err on the side of "guilty until proven innocent". As with other legal chilling effects, the object isn't to deliver justice, it's to silence an opponent by threatening to bankrupt them in legal fees. If one jurisdiction passes a law to dismiss SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), the magic of "libel tourism" may allow a plaintiff to find or fabricate a pretext to sue in some other jurisdiction with weaker freedom-of-speech protections.
    • A few specific countries or regions have problematic laws. An already-bad situation in Turkey became much worse (and continues to decline) after a failed coup attempt. Brazil is prone to criminalise alleged libel (or alleged racism) which might not even merit a civil suit in other countries; the system is prone to corruption and cases take years to get to trial. Thailand is infamous for lèse-majesté laws which criminalise any criticism of that country's king; these laws are routinely abused.
    • There's also a "right to be forgotten" in the EU, which can be abused by individuals to remove search engine results which expose wrongdoing in which they engaged in the distant past. Supposedly a privacy issue is claimed to be at stake.
  • Search engines are not governments, but they occupy an almost single-point-of-failure position in the network which allows them to do tremendous harm. If the Ambulance Chasers can't convince an originating site to remove lawful but damning content, often they will try to coerce Google (or the rare few other major search engines, most of which are fed from Bing or Google) to remove that content from their index. There's also a search engine "duplicate content penalty", originally intended to prevent the hundreds of mirror sites (many of which merely crib the entire Wikipedia text, under a free licence) from crowding out unique information in organic search results. These penalties do not distinguish between a "fork" of a project (where the original community decides to take its content and go elsewhere, as "Inciclopedia Libre" at the University of Seville tried when they were dissatisfied with the US owners of Wikipedia) and a mere mirror or copy. This can crush individual on-line communities.
    • Wikivoyage was created in 2006 (in German and Italian) in protest against the sale of Wikitravel to a for-profit corporation, Internet Brands. Other languages followed in 2012; Wikivoyage became a Wikimedia project (ie: a sibling, or at least a poor cousin, of Wikipedia) in 2013. Even with the backing of a top-five website, Wikivoyage did not manage to surpass Wikitravel in traffic until 2019; it still hasn't caught up in some regions (like the US). Why? Every time the same content existed on both sites, Google suppressed the Wikivoyage result as a duplicate. If no one can find the site, no one links to the site; it's a vicious circle of Google's own making. So much for "don't be evil".
    • Wiki farms such as Wikia also abuse this to retaliate against individual communities which attempt to leave. Uncyclopedia is just one glaring example; Uncyclopedia languages like Portuguese and Japanese (which were never Wikia-hosted) are now top-50000 websites, while no version of the English-language Uncyclopedia (from which Wikia finally cut all ties in May 2019) is even in the top quarter-million.
  • And then there's advertising. The flip side of "freedom of the press for anyone who owns one" is that, the moment a publisher allows their operation to become dependent on ad revenue, they've effectively sold their soul. Print all the content that didn't offend the advertiser, and only that much, or risk having funding cut off and the entire operation folding. It's been the bane of print journalism for years, as much as the big-city daily newspaper editor would vociferously deny it, and it's only getting worse in the Internet era.

Radio

  • Commercial radio is just as over-regulated as over-the-air TV, by the same entities (ACMA in Australia, Ofcom in the UK, CRTC in Canada, FCC in the US). Stations can and do lose their licences to some faceless bureaucrat who didn't like a broadcast's content. The problem is less severe on satellite radio (an encrypted, subscription broadcast) and largely averted on Internet streaming, but over-the air broadcasters are fair game:
  • The CRTC silenced morning radio shock jocks André Arthur et Jeff Fillion in Québec City by refusing to renew CHOI-FM's licence in 2004.

Video Games

  • In 1986, Nintendo of America—which saw video games as family entertainment—leaned on third-party publishers to remove all references to religion, drugs, alcohol, and adult situations from their games. Nintendo threatened to withhold the "Nintendo Seal of Quality" and not manufacture the patented game cartridges for companies that didn't comply. Even when Sega made a name for itself with the Genesis, Nintendo controlled enough of the video game market share to profoundly influence how games were localized for western consumption; however, Sega's marketing was successful in giving Nintendo a "kiddie" label that it's been cursed with ever since, even after their policies (mostly) lapsed with the advent of the ESRB, which established an independent rating system allowing games to be targeted appropriately.
    • Sega themselves censored some of the games they released, most notably Streets of Rage III; they also instituted an MPAA-style rating system on many of their games before the ESRB was formed.
    • The irony is, the "Seal of Quality" was meaningful then—Nintendo also blocked truckloads of crap games. After the courts ruled that Nintendo could no longer prohibit independent games, scads came out without the seal—but stores started voluntarily refusing to carry unlicensed games due to their bad reputation.
    • The full extent of this censorship mindset can be glimpsed through The Expurgation of Maniac Mansion. It's a fascinating read of how Nintendo operated through the 80's.

Theatre

  • England had a Censorship Bureau of sorts for theatre which lasted from the Elizabethan era until the late twentieth century. Some believe that operettas/musical theatre came about, at least in part, as a way of getting around this, since musical performances didn't fall under the Censorship Bureau's jurisdiction. This duty was held by the Lord Chamberlain's office; whilst the title and office still exist, it hasn't been responsible for censorship since 1968.

Television

  • The American FCC, since it a) charges very large fines for violating the standards for programs in media it has authority over (mainly broadcast television and radio), and b) refuses to publish a list of those standards; they can't file criminal charges. Those fines started at $27,500 and went up to $325,000 after Janet Jackson flashed the audience at the 2004 Super Bowl. The record is $1.2 million, for a FOX reality show called Married by America in which someone licked whipped cream off a woman's censored nipples.
    • Much of the backlash against the 7 April 2003 "Married by America" episode (which ran at 9PM, outside watershed) was contrived by a pressure group, the Parents' Television Council, who orchestrated hundreds of identical complaints. The FCC penalised not just the network's owned-and-operated stations, but a long list of small-town affiliates (which are owned independently). Low-power WNYF-CA objected that none of the complainants lived in its tiny Watertown NY (pop 27000) coverage area; the FCC fined them anyway. The network's appeal to the courts got this scaled back to just stations in markets from which someone sent the form-letter FCC complaint (a huge drop in liability), largely because there was no clear advance guidance that this couldn't be broadcast. The show, meanwhile, was panned by reviewers and didn't last past its first season.
    • Well, one complaint represents one billion people.
  • The Office of Communications (Ofcom) plays a similar role in the UK (although it should be noted Ofcom deals primarily with things like lying to viewers and porn channels).

General

  • Dictatorships always had their Censorship Bureaus, more concerned with political references than sex and violence.
    • A rather fascinating case of this was the banning of Voltes V in the Philippines due to the central anti-dictatorship conflict, which actually lead to the Super Robot being seen as a symbol of revolution.
    • Another interesting case was the release of The Who's Quadrophenia in 1973 in Spain. They censored the liner notes for objectionable lyrics, and deleted "Doctor Jimmy." Ah, but that's not all. The booklet contained pictures illustrating Jimmy's story. On the wall of Jimmy's room, there were shall we say, clothing deficient women. These booklets were printed outside the country, so the censors had each offending picture properly clothed with a Black Bra and Panties...by hand.
    • Caesar surprisingly averted this; Marcus Porcius Cato had been one of his most implacable enemies during the civil war and the two disagreed (sometimes violently) on most political matters, yet the only action he took when seeing literature written after the war and during his dictatorship praising Cato was to write his own piece pointing out his (Cato's) faults. It was acceptable to criticise Caesar during his dictatorship. (You might even make it to important offices, like in the case of Marcus Junius Brutus, who had fought on Pompey's side and written a treatise on Cato after that, praising his virtues.) The emperors after him did not follow this policy and played the trope relatively straight.
  • ALL governments engage in censorship under sufficient pressure, such as total war. Go to That Other Wiki and enter "Office of Censorship" for a prime example.