We live in surreal times. In the same week that saw the publication of the heavily-redacted US Senate report into CIA torture; the refusal by the British Government that it knew about US renditions flights using UK territory; and the birthday of Chelsea Manning, who was imprisoned for 35 years for revealing war crimes, President Obama has taken a stand against censorship in the wake of the Sony hacking scandal.
Censorship is always political and highly selective and by no means the monopoly of dictatorships. Globally there are thousands of examples of censorship taking place every day, affecting peoples lives: just take a look at the Index on Censorship website and you’ll see exactly what’s going on. Last week over 5000 pages of the Congress report on CIA torture were kept back and those pages that were made public were heavily redacted: this is censorship, despite many of the details known thanks to leaks and online investigations. And when the British Government was asked if it knew about CIA renditions and the use of torture centres, the answer – despite evidence that it did – was an emphatic no: censorship or a case of selective memory loss?
And when some four years back details of US war crimes were published in major newspapers around the world, the US Government acted immediately by imprisoning and torturing the person who leaked this information – Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. The US Government acted similarly against others who were either whistleblowers or leakers (e.g. Edward Snowden) or those hactivists who were determined to expose perceived wrongdoings (e.g. Jeremy Hammond).
And let’s not forget that one of the roles of the NSA (in the USA) and GCHQ (in the UK) is to keep a lid on any information, publications or other media that promotes ideas that challenge the established order – revolution – this also is censorship, though not officially recognised as such. Mainstream media plays an active role, too, in deciding what makes news and what doesn’t and media owners, such as Rupert Murdoch, are notorious for deciding what political slant to approve.
So, yes, the current furore over the hacking of a Sony movie renowned more for its juvenile scatological humour needs to be put into context. Transparency (and censorship) and what that means is clearly in the eye of the beholder.