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It's an oft-cited maxim that the news media is the "fourth estate" upon which a healthy democracy stands.

It ensures the three traditional powers of state — the legislature, executive and judiciary —  can be critiqued, challenged and curbed from quietly drifting into the arms of corruption and authoritarianism.

A free, fair, open and uncensored media is an antidote to state power and, for all its failings (and there are many), should be treasured as such. There are many countries around the world whose people would give anything for such a freedom.

Yet calls for the banning of certain opinion pieces, cartoons and commentary have risen in recent months, especially from those using social media, a world where such talk is becoming a trend.It is a trend we must confront.

Censorship is to suppress the harmful, the unacceptable, the obscene and the threatening from the media and other forms of public communication. Like a virus attacking democracy from the inside out, it was traditionally the tool of the dictator, though it is one used by many in power.

There have been obvious public examples of this over the last few months, albeit in a mild form.

Much has been written about Auckland’s mayor and Massey University’s vice-chancellor controlling the presentation of viewpoints they disagreed with.

Some have suggested the backlash against those examples of censorship was a media-produced storm in a teacup.

Even if that were true, it is a worthy storm. We must have the wisdom to look ahead and see that what lies at the end of the censorship road is not peace, but oppression.

When anyone calls for the shutting down of views different from their own, even if those alternate views are offensive, we should be alert. Not because any great crime has been committed, but because the best way to eradicate harmful views is through the examination and discussion of them and, if appropriate, an acceptance that they are not worth following.

To demand censorship in place of conversation is to demand that we rob ourselves of the chance to learn and grow, as individuals and as a society, through the crucible of debate.

Free and open debate is how democracy thrives. If an argument, cartoon or commentary surfaces that challenges a belief system, it should spark conversation on alternatives, not conversation on censorship.

Censorship hurts us because it leads to a society knowing less. Good, healthy opinions must be formed by being contrasted with their alternatives.

Sometimes those alternatives are offensive. Mostly the alternatives are simply that — alternatives. They should be heard and debated, and a free and open news media is an essential tool in that process.

It pays to query what those demanding censorship —  be they celebrities, social-media activists or anybody else — see their ultimate goal as being.

To reduce hurt? To make the world a better place? Possibly, and those motivations are laudable. But the method employed to achieve them is not.

While censorship may be meant as a figurative horse upon which a better future rides, inside the belly of that horse lurks an army of conformity, quite capable of unwitting oppression.

History shows what happens when the fourth estate is no longer free to table all opinions.

It is a bleak picture. Without the disinfectant of exposure, power and ideals tend to corrupt even the most seemingly incorruptible.

Censorship, slowly but surely, removes that exposure.

Being a diverse, highly populated and tolerant society is hard work, and the risk of failing is ever present. We must do all we can to alleviate that risk.

To some, censoring seemingly insensitive opinions may seem to be doing just that. In truth, it is doing the opposite.

Through discussion, debate, conversation and story-telling, all things the news media exists to achieve,  we can do far better than censorship.

Comments

"A free, fair, open and uncensored media is an antidote to state power".
We have had a Government Minister engaging in secret meetings and getting caught out that causes everyday people to question the editorial independence of some media platforms.

Cryptic. What 'platforms'? Mainstream media, press, broadcasting? How is mm questionable on the 'Govt minister' caught out brouhaha?

They covered the story.

"They covered the story". There were many articles calling out National Party bullies but I haven't read a lot of analysis of trying to get to the bottom of the what has been going on. We know a Minister has been broken and her career destroyed but we don't know why.

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