Tolerance of Censorship in the Countries of the World

As an American, I know that I have my entitlement towards the first amendment, which it states, “ the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which regulate an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.” That “freedom” is guaranteed to the lives of professionals and citizens of the United States.

It is also known that Spain and the United Kingdom are the two main countries in Europe that featured in the top ten most tolerant countries in terms of censorship. However, is there injustice and suppression of speech, press, and the exercise of religion in other countries. This is a sad reality that thousands of people across the globe must live with today. A good amount of people have some sort of understanding about media censorship in foreign countries, however, many people who live in societies with that “freedom”, adhere to the delusional mindset of “it would never happen here.

” But what a lot of people in today’s world do not know, one of the world’s most influential Western countries, Spain, was subjected to tyrannical censorship on societal institutions (such as the media, education, and the arts) for decades under the reign of dictator Francisco Franco.

Before examining the extent and impact of the censorship that encompassed the societal institutions of Spain, we must first know a little bit about the man who did this, Francisco Franco.

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He was born in Galicia. Franco emerged by a mixture of chance and design as Generalisimo (Commander-in-Chief) of the rebel forces. Franco overthrew the Spanish democratice republic in the Spanish Civil War. He fused the political parties that represented Spain’s facist party, the Falange, the Church, and the army into a single entity. This odd coalition was called the “Movimiento Nacional”. This is in which the Nationalists were created. Franco became the leader of the Nationalist forces, where he then was the head of the government of Spain until 1973 and head of the state until his death in 1975. During his earlier years in power, he was not very popular as he became considered one of the most daunting dictators of the 20th century with his strict policies, censorship, his handling of the economic status that followed the civil war and World War II, the tens of thousands of executions/imprisonment and the establishment of a vast network of secret police. Towards his later years of rule, he loosened up his restrictions and liberalized the government.

Another thing that must be noted about is that Franco’s regime, although technically a monarchy, was still considered an authoritarian regime. Experts would classify his type of structure as “semifascist,” mainly due to his link to the Catholic Church and the openness he had with 15 international connections. This slight difference is important to recognize because the majority of the other dictatorships in Europe at the time only pursued the totalitarian domination of all their societal institutions, while he opted for a type of authoritarian system and ideology (Solsten and Meditz). So this means that Franco allowed some privately owned and foreign publications in Spain but still had a tight grip over every part of the media.

Now to begin to dissect each level of influential factors during Franco’s thirty six year reign over Spain, beginning with Franco’s censorship upon the media. It all began as early 1936, when Franco launched his military rebellion against the Spanish government in Morocco so he could begin obtaining his power as the dictator of Spain. The rebel forces leveled buildings and shocked the citizens of Madrids as bombs were dropped on their city and another city next to them (Toledo). Reports of these bombings has reached the United States through “The New York Times.” By doing so, these reports had “passed by the censor.” This same article included a message from the government that was a safety order issued to the citizens of Madrid regarding the bombings. As it is unsure why it passed, whether it was because it was government mandated, a pre-written message for the media to publish or just a friendly reminder, it is important to notice that it was one of the selected few that did pass and that it directly affected Spanish citizens.

This early example of censorship was a result of the Prensa del Movimiento (Press of the Movement), a committee made from publishing facilities that was seized by Franco’s supporters from the Republic during the Civil War. It was meant originally only to be as a provisional measure for the duration of the war but stayed active long into Franco’s regime and was renamed as Ley de Prensa (Press Law of 1938). Basically, with this legislation, it “required state authorization for publications of any kind, and provided for the suspension of any publication without appeal. In addition, it enabled the state to intervene in the appointment and dismissal of newspaper managers and editors, even in the case of the privately owned press” (Gunther). The controlling of these activities were handled by the Servicio Nacional de Prensa. There was one sector of this organization, called the Junta de Censura, that held the most control on the media. They controlled all the press in Spain, as well as produced and distributed propaganda. The significant part about this was that the Junta was made up of representatives of the Catholic Church, government officials, and other Franco loyalists but mainly representatives of the Catholic Church.

The press focused on upholding and pushing for Catholic virtues, so much of the information or ideas considered by the Church or government to be dangerous or disruptive was terminated or rejected to prevent any type of “ social corruption” or “contamination” of the Church’s ideology. For this reason is how Franco received the support from the Catholic Church because they were able to censor what they did not like and use Franco’s proganada actions for their own agenda. However, there was a huge issue with the censorship that was done. The mandated censorship caused that today historians do not know what published articles would have been like without the restrictions. Specifically speaking that in this case, there is an extreme lack of evidence showing evidence of censorship. Naturally, knowing this information, people could imagine that some citizens went generally unaware of what was truly going on within their own country.

The restrictions the government and the Junta censorship boards had were not just limited to just the media. It held those standards of censorship to other platforms of societal institutions such as the arts of literature and theater. Immediately at the beginning of Franco establishing his role as Caudillo, the theatre community were required to have plays that advocated the Catholic and nationalistic ideology. The regime not only affected domestic writer’s and theatral work but as well foreign work. Novelists like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, James Baldwin and Ian Fleming were censored due to numerous content violations. The most obvious violations or predictable violations were towards the passages or phrases that criticized the Spanish Civil War, the government, or Franco himself. Another violation would be if the work did not align with the Catholic Church’s morals and values (i.e. sexaully explicit scenes, etc).

An example would be in the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, the sexual relations Bond had with the many women he had swooned was not read by the Spainards. These pages were censored by Franco’s government. Another example would be with Hemingway. Hemingway was not subjugated to censorship because of the description of the scenes in the novels but rather for the language used in them. Words like “lesbian’ were changed to “good friends”, his characterization of “General Fat Ass Franco” changed to “ General Asno Gordo” (fat donkey). No one with outside knowledge of other versions of these novels would not have been suspicious of the changes in the first place (Buck). For films, scenes that involved anything sexually were completely censored. Obviously scenes with sex be cut out of the movie and evening kissing was cut out most movies. Some movies were pushed to the extent that even hand holding would violate the morals of the Church as it was seen as a display of affection that was meant behind closed doors.

It was up to the Church to take it on themselves to stop these films from making it in the cinema. However, there were those “ gravely dangerous” films that had slipped through the net of the zealous members of the clergy, so parish priests would go themselves to put a notice in the foyer of the local cinema which would say “ Those who watch today’s programme are committing mortal sin.” It even went to the extremes that some bishops were outraged by authorization of a film, so they went so far as to arrange for groups of pious ladies to wait at the entrance of the cinema. Whenever someone approached the box office, the leader would cry out “ Say an Our Father for the soul of this sinner!” and the others would fall to their knees in prayer. With these results it would cut down the audiences to no end (textbook page 37). A very interesting occurence that was common in literacy and theatrical censorship was the “linguistic purity.”

This means that the Spanish censors would make foreign novels and films translated as “more Spanish.” Franco had ordered that Castellano (Spanish) was the only language allowed for printed material. As mentioned earlier, Franco was from Galicia, and here is where the inhabitants learned both Castellano and Galego (Galician), the regional language. The interesting part about this is, if he was a native from Galicia, why did he ban that language from being printed and spoken in his own country and made Castellano the legalized one? It may be because he wanted to (yet ultimately failed) unify the nation with just one language and suppress the cultural diversity. Also, by means of a dictator, he was been trying to control the entire country by means of propaganda. To do that, he understood that his message could not be reached as far if a chunk of the citizens were not understanding a regional language. As Castellano was defined as “proper” Spanish, Spain would look down on Latin America’s work as the “impure” language. So Latin American novelists’ work and use of the Spanish language was classified as subpar compared to the “acceptable” type of Spanish.

One other smaller aspect that the censorship had on the society of Spain was the sexual awareness. The first of these that limited society was the knowledge of condoms. Condoms could always be obtained, albeit with some difficulty, in red light districts and street markets. Basically when you were going to go to buy condoms, it was known that you were going to commit a sin as it was in the “sinful” part of town where you one, find condom, and two, where you would find brothels (textbook page 38). As mentioned earlier, in movies or in literature, kissing, sexual intercourse, and hand holding was censored.

That same concept was applied to the regular lives of society. Even to the extent where even having novios (boyfriend) walking along arm in arm was not accepted. All the little things that involved any form of physical contact like hand holding, kissing, and being arm in arm between novios were seen as sexual. For the Church, sex was, and to some extent still is, strictly for the purpose of procreation within wedlock. A Capuchin friar, Quintin de Sareigos, writing in the early sixties, had given novios that were struggling with following the Church’s ruling on the matter with advice that would say, ‘Whenever you kiss a man, remember your last communion and think to yourself, “ Could the Sacred Host and the lips of this man come together on my lips with sacrilege?’” Whenever the Pill was introduced, it led to more contraceptive reasons. However, it was limited to just treat certain hormonal disorders, such as severe premenstrual tension.

However, a small but growing number of doctors were prescribing the Pill on therapeutic grounds for women who in fact wanted it for contraceptive purposes. A report was leaked to Cambio 16 that the Pill was being used by more than half a million women. Many of those doctors that began prescribing the Pill outside the actual purpose were put on trial for doing so. In schools there was no sex education. At the time, little was done to ensure the contraceptives that were made legally available to Spaniards were used safely and reliably. So the only thing that would help raise awareness of contraception was AIDS. Later after the Franco period, the availability of both sex education and contraception has helped contained the spread of AIDS but also contributed to a better enjoyment of sex.

On November 20, 1975, Caudillo Francisco Franco finally gave way to his long failing health problems. Franco died in his sleep. A peaceful end to a dictator who began his time with violence and chaos and kept his power through scare tactics and propaganda. During the Franco rule, the Spanish people could have just conceded and accepted the censorship, but civilians, writers, reporters, artists and filmmakers agreed it was not an option. This resistance was just as big of a factor as Franco’s death was in terms of crumbling his regime. However, with his death came a time of transition in Spain, specifically with the censorship he imposed during his reign as Caudillo.

There came a radical governmental shift and economic repairs that required revisions the years that followed. In 1967, he opened direct elections for a small minority of deputies to parliament and in 1969 officially designated prince Juan Carlos ( eldest son of the nominal pretender to the Spanish throne) as his successor upon his death, while he was still the head of state. Adolfo Suarez was appointed as Prime Minister. The freedom of the press and other publications did not hold as importance as the radical changes in the government and economy. It took nearly a year for things to start changing. It began with Suarez implementing the Law for Political Reform in 1976, which increased the freedom of the press and other publications. However, that did not completely undo things for that type of freedom. It was not till the Constitution of 1978 that the Press Law would be terminated. The power structure of Spanish press was revamped by redistributing power and ownership of the various platforms since a chunk of them were ended (i.e. state-run newspapers and radio monopolies).

This would help increase private ownership of the press that were not affected by the regime as well as revive cultures or establish new organizations to promote cultural expressions. Liberation occured for the repressed political and sexual content making it highly attractive to Spanish readers. Much of these changes did not happen instantly. It took time for Spain to reach where they are at now. The states that Spain was divided into and certain press organizations held the power to control the press but they really did not exercise that power much. Yet, the press continued to self-censor their work to better government even though the government did not really control what was put out anymore. That was not the only hint of Franco that was lingering on after his death. There are still other aspects that are sprinkled across the country: statues, streets, and foundations are named after Franco, and supporters annually visit his grave to “pray for his eternal soul,” This grave is considered a physical example of Franco’s propaganda. Jose Zapatero had also attempted to get the country to remove all Franco statues and street names but it never passed as there was opposition by conservative party and Catholic Church. There was even an attempt to remove Franco’s body from the Valle de los Caidos but that as well did not pass. As Spain becomes more flamboyant and tries to move on, Franco’s legacy will be forever and remain in Spain’s culture and history. Franco’s name may not stir the terror it once did in Spaniards’ hearts, but he will still remain as one of history’s most formidable figures in the 20th century.

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Tolerance of Censorship in the Countries of the World. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved from

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