Censoring past television: is it the future?

Is TV censorship necessary and where does the line end? We take a look at the moral situation in question.

Sam Norman
9th May 2023
Image credit: IMDB
Television remains an ever-powerful medium of communication in contemporary times, allowing broadcasters to reach millions of people with their message. This power does however come with the responsibility to remain appropriate, thus now, the question of censorship arises, but is it to protect or restrict?

Censorship in its earliest form came from the use of expletives. We saw an example of this in 2015 at the Golden Globe Awards, with Michael Keaton using an expletive on stage, which was immediately bleeped out. This form of censorship neatly falls into the ‘protection’ category, and although the context could still be heard, the overall substance of the word was taken away.

In more modern era censorship, entire television shows are being removed under the name of protection. With media sensationalism, it can be hard to separate the acts of protection from direct suffocation of freedom of speech. In China, we have borne witness to a government who’s programming is ensured to align with their government’s ideology. Can we really say removing the likes of ‘Little Britain’ is the same?

a drive to improve the quality of television in its messaging comes from the rise of demand to represent black and ethnic minorities

A plethora of old-school British TV shows were dropped from streaming services, including Netflix, UKTV, BritBox and BBC iPlayer. A likelihood drive to improve the quality of television in its messaging comes from the rise of demand to represent black and ethnic minorities. In ‘Little Britain’ we see this representation as continuously disrespectful and satirical but not in a way all audiences can take humour in. Whilst the show provides laughs, they are continuously at the expense of other communities, with extremely racist techniques like “blackface” used. In reality, if there is a growing discontent towards a programme making masses of groups uncomfortable, is there actually any harm in removing it? 

The burden doesn't lie with those offended to educate, but there must be accessible information

Of course, observations need to be made on a case-by-case basis and a balance must be found. Arguments are made that banning former historic television series that do not fit into the current political climate is an erosion of culture, but do we really define our culture by the bigoted attitudes a tv show produces? If censorship is the solution, education must be crucial. Though basic awareness for some, many lack the knowledge to understand why an action in a series is offensive. That does not mean the burden lies with those offended to educate, but there must be accessible information. As to simply censor without citing any reason will only increase the demand for the show – with the age-old trope of sending something underground, and it only expanding more. If a show is to be censored and explained fairly for the reason why, then a reasonable balance can be found. 

While this debate will continue to bubble, fanned at the flames by hyperbolic statements in the media, censorship isn’t the fascist act it is made out to be. Appropriate representation of all communities is never too much to ask.  

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AUTHOR: Sam Norman
Head of Current Affairs 23/24. Campus Comment Sub-editor 22/23. BA English Language and Literature Student.

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