Thursday, April 19, 2007

Media Censorship?

Much has been written in the past few days about the massacre of students on the campus of Virginia Tech in the USA. An interesting issue here surrounds the fact that the killer took time out from his killing to mail a package of material to NBC justifying his actions. Should NBC (and immediately after everyone else) have aired the material produced by the killer?

NBC tells us that they only did so after agonizing deliberation and only because they felt that it was necessary to view this material in order to satisfy the need of the public to know why the killer acted as he did. Others supporting the release of the material point out that censorship in a democracy is a bad thing and leads to dictatorship. Well, it seems to me that the actions of the killer are explained by the fact that he was insane - no need to view his self-serving propaganda to discover that. Secondly, it seems to me that sometimes in a civilized society self-censorship is appropriate.

Airing the material produced by this killer over and over again plays into the hands of the killer himself as well as into the hands of other insane young men who might want to copy his actions. My own preference would be that the name of the individual who commits such horrible crimes would never be spoken again (and his face never seen again). This would be good first of all because it might discourage this kind of insane acting out. I suspect that one of the reasons for this kind of acting out is the hope for a moment of fame, even if in death. If this is true, every time we publicize the actions of these killers, we are setting the scene for a repeat of the horror. Secondly, publicizing the material produced by the killer takes attention away from the victims of his crimes. It must have been agonizing for victims and their families to see the killer attempting to blame them for his terrible actions.

The issue of censorship is a difficult one but it seems to me that a civilized society needs a certain amount of innocence. In Psalm 101 the psalmist writes, "I will walk with blameless heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes whatever is base." Evil exists in the world and Christians should never be surprised when they encounter it but we do not need to be immersed in evil in order to understand it. I think that the current obsession of the media with the spectacular misdeeds of celebrities for example, demonstrates a malaise in our society. The eagerness of the media to publicize the rantings of the Virginia Tech killer demonstrate such a malaise.

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