Volume 93, Issue 31

Tuesday, October 26, 1999


Editorial Board 1999-2000

1984 or taking responsibility?

Editorial cartoon

1984 or taking responsibility?

Where does regulation cease to exist and censorship begin?

The London Public Library recently set aside computers for the specific use of children. These computers have filters placed upon their internet access, restricting children from viewing web sites with pornographic content. Justifiably, they feel the need to protect minors from viewing potentially harmful material.

For many, this may seem like a reasonable move. However, their actions have recently come under fire from a professor at the University of British Columbia, who said using filters in public places inhibits one's right to access information.

All forms of media – from movies, which exercise an age of admission, to television scheduling strategic viewing times to magazines requiring identification at the counter – are regulated to a certain extent.

These types of rules exist everywhere in our lives. You must be 19 years old to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, you must be at least 16 years of age to hold a valid driver's license to operate a vehicle, 65 years old to get a senior citizen's discount and "this tall" to ride most rollercoasters. These are just a few of the ways our lives are regulated.

It's when the material being regulated is the media, that the topic of censorship immediately becomes a concern.

Should a publicly funded library be able to determine what we see and read within its walls? Who determines what is offensive and what is permissible? Basically, where do we draw the line?

Although difficult to define, censorship is universally held, at least among the democratic nations of the world, to be a bad thing. No matter the definition, it almost always meets with a negative reaction from the public at large who demand a free society.

And no matter what the content being restricted may be, this debate between regulation and censorship is bound to ensue. Where regulation should become censorship is a heated battle, which in many cases, doesn't produce any concrete answers.

Perhaps finding definite, final answers is not the most important objective. Maybe, instead, it is this simmering debate which is an answer in itself.

Situations such as this move by the London Public Library need to be debated and discussed. Many materials, from Mark Twain novels to snuff films, have come under regulation or censorship. But even though a consensus will, almost surely, never be reached, the public must be willing to debate these topics and voice their opinions.

As long as we are willing and able to discuss and debate these issues, we will be able to act as regulators on those powers and bodies who seem to regulate us. Hopefully in doing this we will be able to ensure regulation never crosses the line into the world of censorship.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999