Two Types of Self-censorship: Public and Private

Political Studies 61 (1):178-196 (2013)

Philip Cook
University of Edinburgh
Conrad Heilmann
Erasmus University Rotterdam
We develop and defend a distinction between two types of self-censorship: public and private. First, we suggest that public self-censorship refers to a range of individual reactions to a public censorship regime. Second, private self-censorship is the suppression by an agent of his or her own attitudes where a public censor is either absent or irrelevant. The distinction is derived from a descriptive approach to self-censorship that asks: who is the censor, who is the censee, and how do they interact? We label situations in which censor and censee are different agents as public self-censorship, and situations in which they are the same agents as private self-censorship. We demonstrate the salience of this distinction by analysing the case of publication of Mohammed cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Our analysis reveals the presence and interaction of a number of different instances of private and public self-censorship. While our article is primarily concerned with establishing this novel descriptive distinction between public and private self-censorship, our analysis has important evaluative implications. We explain for instance how Jyllands-Posten was laudable as a public self-censor but not so as a private self-censor. In general, our analysis reveals that the agents and processes involved in public and private self-censorship are substantively different, as are the agents to whom normative principles regarding censorship should be applied. In particular, principles of free speech do not apply to the case of private self-censorship, because while an instance of censorship, the absence of an external censor makes the censorship non-coercive.
Keywords censorship  self-censorship  free speech  Danish Mohammed cartoons
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