Examples of classic censorship by country
In China there is a deep association between music and state. The Li Ji, a classic text of Confucianism from the Zhou dynasty, claims the music of a peaceful and prosperous country is quiet and joyous, and the government is orderly. The music of a country in turmoil shows dissatisfaction and anger, and the government is chaotic (Legge, 1967).
A particularly clear example of a concerted system of state censorship is to be found here.
Access to otherwise standard websites (Facebook, Twitter and Google services) is largely blocked and the mainland-state maintains authority to ban any publication, online or in print. As for music, there is a history of musicians being banned from performance throughout the PRC. Cases include A- mei, banned for performing the national anthem of Taiwan at the inauguration of the pro-independence president Chen Shui-bian in 2000, Bob Dylan for suspicions of sedition, and Jay Z for profanity and violent lyrics.
Only recently, however, has specific music been publicly and effectively banned. In 2011 the Ministry of Culture declared that 100 foreign pop songs would be banned online,
and in 2015 another 120 Chinese songs met the same fate, when it was declared that no unit or individual is allowed to provide them. With the Xinhua News Agency citing obscenity, violence, crime or harmed social morality as well as issues of legality and threats to national cultural security. Under the rubric of vulgarity falls the ban on the song F?ngp? (??) by the Taiwanese aborigine artist Chang Chen-yue.
Translatable literally as Fart, the song had gained some notoriety for the line There are some people in the world who like farting while doing nothing, although in either case a fairer translation of the word would be bullshitthe song is in fact a criticism of those who refuse to stand up to authority (in this case ones boss).
An implicit rationale for this suppression can be attributed to suppression of potential undermining of the single partys authority. With a history of instability and rebellion, it may be significant that a great advance in censorship immediately followed the Arab Spring chain of uprisingseven by the end of January a Chinese-language search for Egypt would turn up blank on Chinese search engines and on Chinese social media.
How effective has this censorship been? The revolutionary movements of 2011 largely did not spread to China, but not being a global movement in the first place it is hard to attribute this to government action. 220 songs is a rather small figure, however the risks of making or publishing unpublishable material as well as relative clarity regarding what is approved suggests a larger effect on general music. On the other hand there is little to suggest that social morality has been serviced, that support for the Taiwanese government has been controlled or that violence has been abated. The Chinese Ministry of Cultures stated aim to protect the citys hip-hop fans from nasty lyrics about pimps, guns and drugs by banning Jay Z from performing in Shanghai in 2006 seems decidedly unrealistic. Furthermore even within what is cited as one of the most pervasive, successful attempts at censorship, it seems access to banned materials is actually common. Young netizens can circumvent the great firewall using Virtual Private Networks; despite the ban, google.com and youtube.com are respectively the 11th and 12th most visited websites in China.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concern the right to freedom of opinion and expression: Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. General comment no. 34 asserts, Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person.
China may not have ratified the ICCPR but the UK has, as well as signing corresponding Article 10 of the European Convention. Nevertheless the UK has laws in place to censor an array of matters from obscenity to insurgence to imagining the death of the monarch. In practice this rarely influences music today. But it can be informative to look at the recent past. The chief and state- owned broadcaster is the BBC and until 1997 it was not uncommon for it to ban inappropriate songs from airplay. Examples include Ebeneezer Goode (1992) by the Shamens for its drug reference and endorsement, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (1967) by the Beatles in 1967 for the same reasons and Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Relax, banned in 1984 following DJ Mike Reads refusal to play it for reasons of obscenity. In each case censorship came too late, the appetite for these songs was already present regardlessthis is a key point. In any case both songs continued to be greatly successful. In cases of private radio stations, refusal to play music for ethical reasons may be considered self-censorship, and have a different degree of justifiability. However as a public service, refusal to play demanded material for political reasons as for example with the banning of Ewan MacColls songs (for his communist sympathies) and the banning of Paul McCartneys Give Ireland Back to the Irish seems problematic. This issue demands a well-calibrated judgment concerning the relative importance of , on the one hand, avoiding offence and on the other fully reflecting public opinion. It would seem to this author that the offence caused by confrontation with difficult issues such as colonialism or communism is not a lasting or serious harm but that, for reasons stated more fully in the conclusion but chiefly for its importance on a societal level, suppression of common political viewpoints is a real harm.