Is the regulation of the press desirable?
In this essay that we teach in our GP tuition, we wish to highlight to JC students the significance of regulation of the press through censorship and its impact on the society.
In modern societies, the press plays an important role in relaying information from key institutions and organisations to the public. Through the use of traditional and new media methods, the press has shaped public perceptions significantly, for the better or worse. As such, some argue that the regulation of the press is necessary to contain the undesirable influences that arise. On the other hand, others believe that the freedom of the press should never be curtailed as the intention for regulation may undermine the intrinsic motivation for information proliferation. In view of these differing perspectives, this essay is more inclined to the view that the regulation of the press is desirable, given that the pervasive and negative influences can be contained and overcome via censorship at the state and individual levels.
For those who believe that regulation of the press is not desirable, their rationale stems from the argument that the fundamental human rights of individuals must be upheld. From the ideological perspective, critics of press regulation argue that every individual should bear the right of access to information. The denial of access to specific information, possibly due to political intervention, clashes with these fundamental rights. For example, the notion of net neutrality has been strongly advocated in the US, as individuals called for the respect for freedom of access to information. Therefore, the regulation of the press may give rise to social conflicts due to the suppression of individual interests.
However, such a view is questionable as individuals who bear malicious intents may abuse this perceived right of access to information and manipulate the flow of information for personal interests. The growing prevalence of fake news has warranted the push for press regulation. This worrying trend is further exacerbated by the technological advancement, which empowered individuals to leapfrog traditional news organisations and publicise information independently. As a result, individuals can even spread misinformation and cause unwanted alarm and panic. Hence, harsh regulatory measures on the press are justified and desirable in order to overcome these negative influences and restore law and order effectively.
Second, press regulation is desirable as it preserves the racial and religious cohesion within societies. In this increasingly interconnected world, the freer movement of individuals creates more opportunities for social interaction amongst people from diverse racial and religious backgrounds. Should individuals bear the misconception that the autonomy for self-expression is acceptable and that everyone else should be as forgiving, it is inevitable that violent clashes and conflicts would result. For instance, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 was attributed to the controversial cartoon published by the French satirical newspaper company. The insensitive illustrations have incensed Islamic organisations, culminating in the horrific terrorist attacks that left 12 people dead. Therefore, these tragedies could have been averted with the regulation of the press, which is of paramount importance to social stability, as individuals would recognise the importance of religious tolerance and harmony.
Third, press regulation is desirable from the political angle as the restricted flow of adverse information can prevent the collapse of political authority. Anti-government news organisations have risen to prominence in the recent decades, partially due to the accessibility of information via the Internet. These organisations would pummel the government relentlessly by questioning and criticising the policy-making effectiveness. As such, the continual efforts of these organisations may cause the loss of credibility for the ruling governments, which gives rise to political instability. Arab Spring proved to be a disastrous turning point for the authoritarian governments as demonstrators capitalised on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, to promote their political cause, which led to overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in 2010 and 2011. Hence, press regulation may have been desirable for the avoidance of such destabilizing elements.
Lastly, the regulation of the press is necessary and desirable as it preserves the significance of moral and ethics that guide individuals to behave responsibly. Press regulation ensures that individuals uphold their moral and ethical values by eliminating negative influences. For instance, objectionable websites, like Ashley Madison, were banned by the Media Development Authority (MDA) in Singapore. The government held a firm stance towards the Ashley Madison website as it advocated extra-marital affairs, which may lead to moral degradation, seen in terms of the loss of family values and public morality. Therefore, press regulation indeed is desirable and crucial in maintaining the civic-mindedness of individuals in modern societies.
In conclusion, this essay reiterates the view the press regulation is desirable, given the religious, political and moral implications of free information on modern societies. Also, individuals also bear the responsibility to be educated and aware of the adverse influences, such that self-censorship can mitigate these impacts as well.