Thursday, May 10, 2007

Actual Honest To God Censorship

One of my pet peeves is when the word "censorship" is used in situations where it no way can be used accurately. If a library in a Catholic school removes a pro-choice book from it shelves that is not "censorship." Anyone is free to go get the book from a public library, buy it from a bookstore, or order it from Amazon. The point is, if you really want to read it, it is available to you. Now, these types of situations may or may not be good policy, but they are in no way censorship; i.e. the government is not coming in and keeping you from viewing the material.

In the case of PBS and the suppressed documentary on radical Islam (Islam vs. the Islamists), given the special connection PBS has with the government of the United States and with us citizens, it is potentially much fairer to use the term censorship. The reasons PBS gives for not showing the film are troubling to say the least. They claim the film is "unfair" and "unprofessional...not up to PBS standards." Considering that I have seen Roger & Me and Bowling For Columbine on PBS stations (not to mention anything produced by Bill Moyers), the notion that they are forever trying to be "fair" is laughable. Besides, as in so many other artistic works, filmmakers (or at least good ones) will always bring their own subjective point of view to every project. If that is really a problem than nothing could be shown on PBS. Besides, the cry of "this is unfair" is in itself a subjective pronouncement by the PBS administrators, and one that in the end should be given very little sway.

The claim that something is "unprofessional and not up to standards" is something that might also be in the eye of the beholder. However, by all accounts the film in question is a very well made piece of work that is in many ways superior to the usual "American Crossroads" fare.

This is how Academy Award nominee Roger L. Simon saw the film after a screening:

Burke’s doc is a riveting and creatively made film about the most important subject of our time: what to do about radical Islam? It confronts this dilemma in a sly, novelistic manner, inter-weaving the stories of good, moderate Muslims with the Imams and supposedly “true Muslims” who, not surprisingly, accuse the moderate Muslims of not being Muslims at all. Soon enough we learn these Imams are apologists for terrorism and for the worst kind of medieval religious sadism. (One of them enthusiastically endorses the stoning to death of adulterers by holding up a Koran. “I didn’t make this up,” he says proudly. “It is written here.”) The mostly mild-mannered moderate Muslims are shown to be at risk for the lives, some of them accompanied everywhere by bodyguards.

All this is done with the people talking about themselves and revealing themselves (including the Imam responsible for the bloody Danish Cartoons riots). There are no so-called “terrorism experts” or other talking heads interpreting reality for us. In other words, this is a film, not another one of those didactic docs referred to above.

But it does have a strong point of view – and therein lies the rub. PBS, clearly, does not like what this movie says. And I suspect it likes it less because the film is well made (the reverse of what the network originally claimed).

PBS’ views seem particularly troglodytic today in light of recent events at Fort Dix. But that is the least of it. What is far more important to our country is that our Public Broadcasting network, an organization supported by taxpayer money, is practicing the most obvious censorship. PBS is operating here in the manner of similar institutions in the former Soviet Union and in modern day Iran – financing artists and then withholding distribution of their work when it is not deemed ideologically “correct”. It’s a form of thought-control and it’s unconscionable.

I hereby call on my fellow Motion Picture Academy members, whatever their political leanings, to protest this cowardly and un-American act of censorship. As artists, we should be appalled by such blatant disregard of our First Amendment rights. Public funding of PBS should be reconsidered if such reactionary behavior continues.

I agree with Roger. PBS should be held to a much higher standard because of who they are and what they are supposed to represent, the American people. As such, they should not interfere with an artists work because they dislike his or her viewpoint.

There is a word for that type of behavior. Censorship.

If you haven't done so yet, you can sign a petition protesting this act of PBS here.


DiVerse said...

Surley you're joking. If a Catholic school does not offer its students the information about choice, how can this not be censorship?

This is exactaly what censorship is - not giving people a choice when there is one -is censorship.


The Iconic Midwesterner said...

No. "Censorship" is the power to stop the publication or desemination of a work using the legal and coercive power of the state.

A Catholic library cannot stop the publication of any work in any way. Besides, there are tens of thousands of books and periodicals that libraries do not carry because they are deemed not appropriate to the mission of the institution. Are every single one of those cases an act of "Censorship?"

A private institution has as much right to decide what should or shouldn't sit on their bookshelves as you or I do.