Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one's own discourse. This is done out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities or preferences (actual or perceived) of others and without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority. Self-censorship is often practiced by film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, journalists, musicians, and other kinds of authors including individuals who use social media.

In authoritarian countries, creators of artworks may remove material that their government might find controversial for fear of sanction by their governments. In pluralistic capitalist countries, repressive judicial lawmaking can also cause widespread "rivercrabbing" of Western media.[1]

Self-censorship can also occur in order to conform to the expectations of the market. For example, the editor of a periodical may consciously or unconsciously avoid topics that will anger advertisers, customers, or the owners in order to protect her or his livelihood either directly (i.e., fear of losing his job) or indirectly (e.g., a belief that a book will be more profitable if it does not contain offensive material). This phenomenon is referred to as soft censorship.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of speech from all forms of censorship. Article 19 explicitly states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”[2]

Freedom of Expression

People often communicate to affirm one's identity and sense of belonging.  People may express their opinions or withhold their opinions due to the fear of exclusion or unpopularity.  Shared social norms and beliefs create a sense of belonging, but they can also create a suppression of expression in order to comply or belong.  People may adjust their beliefs or opinions to go along with the majority attitude.  There are different factors that contribute to self-censorship such as gender, age, education, political interests and media exposure.  For some, the reason for their change in beliefs and opinions are rooted in fear of isolation and exclusion.  The risk of negative reactions is greater than expressing one's true beliefs.

According to the survey on self-censorship in Germany, conducted from May 3–16, 2019 by Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), 59% of respondents said they can express their views among friends, but only 18% believe the same is possible in public. Only 17% of respondents express themselves freely on the Internet.[3][4]


Journalists often censor themselves due to threats against them or their interests from another party,[5] editorial instructions from their supervisor[s], perceived conflicts of interest with a media organization's economic sponsors, advertisers or shareholders,[6] etc.). Self-censorship occurs when journalists deliberately manipulate their expression out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities or preferences (actual or perceived) of others and without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority. Self-censorship of journalists is most pervasive in societies where governments have official media censorship policies and where journalists will be jailed, fined, or simply lose their job if they do not follow the censorship rules. Organizations such as (Media Matters for America,[7] Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,[8] Democracy Now!, and the American Civil Liberties Union) have raised concerns about news broadcasting stations, particularly Fox News, censoring their own content to be less controversial when reporting on certain types of issues such as the War on Terror.

In their book Manufacturing Consent (1988), Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman argue that corporate ownership of news media very strongly encourages systematic self-censorship owing to market forces.[6] In this argument, even with supposedly liberal media, bias and (often unconscious) self-censorship is evident in the selection and omission of news stories, and the framing of acceptable discussion, in line with the interests of the corporations owning those media.

The journalists have actively sought censorship advice from military authorities in order to prevent the inadvertent revelation of military secrets. In 2009, The New York Times succeeded in suppressing news of a reporter's abduction by militants in Afghanistan for seven months until his escape from captivity in order to 'reduce danger to the reporter and other hostages'.[9]

Journalists have sometimes self-censored publications of news stories out of concern for the safety of people involved. Jean Pelletier, the Washington D.C. correspondent for the Montreal La Presse newspaper, uncovered a covert attempt by the Canadian government to smuggle US diplomats out of Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis before the "Canadian Caper" had reached its conclusion. In order to preserve the safety of those involved, he refused to allow the paper to publish the story until the hostages had left Iran, despite the considerable news value to the paper and writer.

Self-censorship became a quite frequent practice in Russia after 2000's government take-overs and consolidation of media, further deepened after 2014-2015 laws on 'undesirable organisations'.[10][11][12]


As for Europe, threats to media freedom have shown a significant increase in recent years. Journalists and whistleblowers have experienced physical and psychological intimidation and threats. Self-censorship is one of the major consequences of such circumstances.[13][14]

A study published in 2017 by the Council of Europe found that in the period 2014-2016 that 40% of journalists involved in the survey experienced some kind of unwarranted interference, in particular psychological violence, including slandering and smear campaigning, cyberbulling. Other forms of unwarranted interference include intimidation by interest groups, threats with force, intimidation by political groups, targeted surveillance, intimidation by the police, etc. In terms of geography, cases of physical assault were more common in the South Caucasus, followed by Turkey, but were present in other regions as well.[14]


In China, the media has to go to even greater extents to censor much of the material that it would post online. Many companies have been shut down by government because of the content that they have published. Nearly 10,000 social media accounts in October of 2018 were shut down that published entertainment and celebrity news.[15] As well as 370 different streaming apps that were pulled off of the app stores for non-compliance.[16] Due to these high numbers of government interference, the companies and networks that publish on the internet are now employing people and utilizing sophisticated programs to find videos and pictures that are offensive to remove before the government can get them in trouble.[16]


James Gomez writes about this phenomenon in his book Self-Censorship: Singapore's Shame. He argues that citizens and foreigners in Singapore practice self-censorship that results in the censorship of others when it comes to political matters.


Religious affiliation is a topic in which many occupational fields and areas may be a source of self-censorship.  One particular area is psychology.  From the origins of psychology, the field has frequently viewed religion with distrust. Psychologists and therapists often refrain from claiming to be part of any religion believing in the possibility that any expressions of any devout faith may be viewed as markers for mental illness or distress.  A 2013 survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that “relative to the general population, psychologists were more than twice likely to claim no religion, three times more likely to describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and five times more likely to deny belief in God.”[17]

Regarding a religious movement it is more common among fundamentalist believers like Wahhabism, Islamism, Calvinism, and Hasidic Judaism.[18]


Self-censorship in scientific publications that have been criticized as politically motivated include scientists under the Third Reich withholding findings that disagreed with the commonly held beliefs in differences between races, or the refusal of these scientists under Hitler to support General Relativity (which got the reputation as "Jewish science"). More recently, certain scientists have withheld their findings related to climate changes caused by pollution and to endangered species.[19][20][21]

Professor Heinz Klatt argues that hate laws, speech codes, cowardice, and political correctness have resulted in an intellectually repressive atmosphere in modern-day academic circles, with widespread self-censorship on topics like homosexuality, (learning) disabilities, Islam, and genetic differences between human races and sexes.[22]

Risks from scientific publications

In the early days of atomic physics, it was realized that discoveries regarding nuclear fission and the chain reaction might be used for both beneficial and harmful purposes - on the one hand, such discoveries could have important applications for medicine and energy production, however on the other hand, they might also lead to the production of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction.[23] Leo Szilard argues that if dangerous discoveries were kept secret, the development and use of such weapons might be avoided.[24] Similar to nuclear fission findings in the field of medicine and biotechnology could facilitate production of biological weapons of mass destruction.[25][26][27] In 2003 members of the Journal Editors and Authors Group, 32 leading journal editors, perceived the threat from biological warfare as sufficiently high to warrant a system of self-censorship on the public dissemination of certain aspects of their community's research. The statement agreed on declared:[28]

We recognize that the prospect of bioterrorism has raised legitimate concerns about the potential abuse of published information... We are committed to dealing responsibly and effectively with safety and security issues that may be raised by papers submitted for publication, and to increasing our capacity to identify such issues as they arise...[O]n occasions an editor may conclude that the potential harm of publication outweighs the potential societal benefits... the paper should be modified, or not be published...

Taste and decency

Taste and decency are other areas in which questions are often raised regarding self-censorship. Art or journalism involving images or footage of murder, terrorism, war and massacres may cause complaints as to the purpose to which they are put. Curators and editors will frequently censor these images to avoid charges of prurience, shock tactics or invasion of privacy. When the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, for example, was interviewed regarding his decision to whitewash an antiwar mural showing dollar-draped military coffins, he speculated that the mural would have offended the community in which it was placed. He then added that "there were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away,"[29] a comment that practically defines the present topic.

In management and engineering, groupthink exists regarding matters of taste as they affect what products are acceptable for use by the public, but is not usually recognized as such.

Online resources

The Guardian's withdrawal of its extended interview of Noam Chomsky in 2005 which was seen as a smear by his admirers such as the Media Lens group[30] while the apology he received[31] and the article's removal were viewed as "spineless" acts by historian Marko Attila Hoare,[32] one of Chomsky's critics. Another such incident would be the deletion of a December 21, 2006 Op-Ed piece in the New York Sun which had been written by British journalist Daniel Johnson.

Information society and hygiene

Self-censorship can be considered as a method of preventive medicine and health maintenance: it stands in connection with the development of the information society,[33] information overload and information pollution, the evolving information ecology and is associated with informational hygiene.[34]

See also


  1. Steven Swinford (23 May 2011). "Ryan Giggs: from golden boy to tarnished idol". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  2. University of Salzburg, Journalism Self-Censorship, Global Self-Censorship Struggles: Lebanon, Mexico, China, Hong Kong and Slovakia Archived December 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  3. "Immer mehr Tabuthemen". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 22 May 2019.
  4. "Mehrheit der Deutschen äußert sich in der Öffentlichkeit nur vorsichtig". Die Welt. 22 May 2019.
  5. Jeanne Meserve (June 29, 2005). "Milk-threat study issued over objections". Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  6. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Vintage, 1994, ISBN 0-09-953311-1
  7. Media Matters for America: 33 internal Fox editorial memos reviewed by MMFA reveal
  8. FAIR: Censorship Archived 2005-01-18 at the Wayback Machine
  9. JASON STRAZIUSO (June 20, 2005). "New York Times reporter escapes Taliban captivity". Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 23, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
  10. "Russia's 'Undesirables' Law Expected to Boost Media Self-Censorship | News". Retrieved 2015-09-07.
  11. "Newspaper censors its own interview with Russian opposition leader, removing criticism of Putin and others". Retrieved 2015-09-07.
  12. "Coercion or Conformism? Censorship and Self- Censorship among Russian Media Personalities and Reporters in the 2010s" (PDF). Demokratizatsiya. Spring 2014.
  13. "New study on intimidation of journalists and self-censorship in Europe". Council of Europe. Newsroom. 20 April 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  14. CLARK, Marilyn; GRECH, Anna (2017). Journalism under pressure. Unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe. Strasbourg: Council of Europe publishing. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  15. Kuo, Lily (2018-12-31). "From 'rice bunny' to 'back up the car': China's year of censorship". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  16. "In China, a circle of online self-censorship; Threat of being shut down for violating laws pushes internet firms to police their networks." Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada], 5 June 2018, p. A1. World History in Context, Accessed 11 Apr. 2019.
  17. Rosik, Christopher H.; Teraoka, Nicole A.; Moretto, James D (2016). "Religiously-based prejudice and self-censorship: Perceptions and experiences among Christian therapists and educators". Journal of Psychology and Christianity: 52–67.
  18. Habermas, Jurgen (2006). "Religion in the Public Sphere". European Journal of Philosophy. 14: 1–25. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0378.2006.00241.x.
  19. Ayaz Nanji (February 11, 2005). "Scientific Method: Self-Censorship, Study Finds Researchers Shy Away From Controversial Projects". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  20. Julie Cart (February 10, 2005). "U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings". Los Angeles Times. p. A-13. Archived from the original on February 24, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  21. Daniel Schorn (July 30, 2006). "Rewriting The Science, Scientist Says Politicians Edit Global Warming Research". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  22. Heinz Klatt (October 27, 2006). "Self-censorship the bane of academic life". The Gazette (University of Western Ontario). Archived from the original on February 21, 2009. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  23. Schweber, Silvan S. (2007-01-07). In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist. ISBN 978-0691127859.
  24. Selgelid, Michael J. "Governance of dual-use research: an ethical dilemma". World health Organization. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  25. "The darker bioweapons future" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. November 3, 2003. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  26. Broad, William J. (November 1, 2003). "Bioterror Researchers Build A More Lethal Mousepox". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  27. Nowak, Rachel (10 January 2001). "Killer mousepox virus raises bioterror fears". New Scientist. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  28. McLeish, C.A. (2003). "Reactions to Self-censorship" (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  29. Finkel, Jori (2010-12-15). "Museum of Contemporary Art commissions, then paints over, artwork". Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles Times.
  30. "Smearing Chomsky - The Guardian In The Gutter". medialens. November 4, 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  31. "Corrections and clarifications". The Guardian. November 17, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  32. Marko Attila Hoare "Chomsky’s Genocidal Denial", FrontPage magazine, 23 November 2005
  33. Resolution A/RES/60/252, dated 27 April 2006, adopted by the UN General Assembly on World Summit on the Information Society.
  34. Eryomin A.L. Information ecology - a viewpoint// International Journal of Environmental Studies. - 1998. - Vol. 54. - pp. 241-253.
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