“You say tomato…”: A note on regulation vs censorship

There’s been a lot of fuss in the UK about Theresa May wanting to move OfCom into “the role of a censor”. Which is odd because, to the extent that it is effective, OfCom already occupies “the role of a censor”.

OfCom issues guidance on what may not be shown to content-consumers; those who overstep the mark are punished. Responsible content-producers will, naturally, stay within the prescribed boundaries, while the punishment that is meted out to those who do cross any given line is a signal to other content-producers that they must not go too far. When the pressure to be responsible and/or the cost of irresponsibility is high enough, regulation is simply a way of getting content producers to do the censor’s job themselves in advance.

To put the matter plainly, whether some ‘unnatural act’, say, is prohibited by regulation or cut by a censor makes no difference, the effect is the same: the ‘unnatural act’ will not be seen. The difference between regulation and censorship is quantitative, not qualitative; one of degree, not kind.

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