Censorship (information control)

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A copy of National Geographic magazine censored by the Iranian authorities in February 2006 . The cover photo, hidden by the white sticker, shows a couple hugging.
Burning books on the cover of the Catholic index - the divine Holy Spirit is represented as a dove.
Caricature by Luis Bagaría on the Spanish censorship under dictator Primo de Rivera : “Cooperation - the caricaturist: Mr. Censor: As you know, your pen is better than mine. So I ask you to make the caricature for me. If you want, I can make you a suggestion: Could you draw a stocky and optimistic Spaniard who says: 'I've never been better than today'? "
Censorship entry in the script of the telenovela Roque Santeiro , 1985, during the military dictatorship in Brazil

Censorship ( Latin censura ) is the attempt to control information . Through restrictive procedures - usually by government agencies - mass media or personal information traffic are to be controlled in order to suppress or prevent the dissemination of undesirable or illegal content. Not only totalitarian states can carry out censorship.


The term "censorship" is derived from the Latin word censura , which denotes a strict examination or assessment and at the same time the office of a moral judge ( censor ) in the Roman state.

The term censorship (which is also used to describe the evaluation of students) is also related to the word interest , via the common Latin root censere , which actually means "to appreciate". For the verb censere the noun censura was formed, which means "examination, assessment, criticism" and was adopted into German in the 15th or 16th century.

Aims and justifications of censorship

News, artistic expressions and expressions of opinion in particular are objects of censorship. The aim of censorship is to control intellectual life in a religious, moral or political sense. This control is justified by the fact that one wants or must protect vulnerable groups of society from the harmful effects of such content.

  • The Catholic Church justified its ban on heretical writings (see also Index Librorum Prohibitorum ) with the protection of faith ( morality was used as an argument early on ).
  • Morally justified censorship z. B. with the protection of minors from content and representations that endanger their mental development (for example depictions of violence or inhuman forms of sexuality), see also protection of minors .

On the part of those affected by censorship and also in scientific studies, the accusation has been and continues to be that the real motivation for censorship is the protection and maintenance of power of the elites who exercise it.

Control measures

The following measures are used for control, depending on the state and legal situation:

  • The creation of censorship commissions or authorities,
  • Media bans,
  • Banned media directories ( black list ),
  • Prohibition of possession of periodically appearing media ( indices ),
  • Ban on the transport, sale and purchase of media,
  • Pre-censorship (measure to check scripts before going to press),
  • Post-censorship (control of already printed and commercially available printed works),
  • Prohibition of certain content and forms of expression,
  • Imprint obligation to identify authors,
  • Binding of the media editors to licenses and privileges that can also be withdrawn again,
  • Compulsory bond , i.e. the obligation to deposit money with the censorship authority,
  • Newspaper taxes (the so-called stamp tax ),
  • Restrictions on professional licenses for printers,
  • Professional bans for printers and withdrawal of printing licenses,
  • Fines, prison terms and finally expulsion from the country,
  • Collection of individual issues of media,
  • Limitation of the frequency of publication of periodical media,
  • increased media transport fees.

Press censorship includes the prohibition of distribution (broadcasting, distribution) or changing or shortening the content. For films censorship worthy scenes are for example cut out, hidden objects or phrases with a beep (engl. Bleep superimposed), the latter also in the reproduction of sound recordings.


Often - as in the Basic Law - under censorship is understood the control of press products before they are published. Censorship in this sense, the so - called pre - censorship , is a prohibition with reservation of permission , which is stipulated in Art. 5 Abs. 2 GG. A distinction is made between this and post-censorship , in which freedom of expression is only intervened after publication:

In the case of preliminary censorship , media (films, books, magazines, etc.) must be submitted to appropriate institutions for review before publication, which then may request changes or index the work .

The Nachzensur is part also of those legal systems in which censorship is prohibited under the Constitution. Everyone is allowed to express their opinion, but can subsequently be held responsible if they violate the law. The consequences can be confiscation and indexing of the work concerned or punishment of the person. An example from German post-war history is the controversy surrounding the so-called Lex Soraya .

Since basic rights are traditionally to be understood as the rights of private individuals to defend themselves against the state ( Article 1, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law), censorship in Germany within the meaning of Article 5, Paragraph 1, p. 3 of the Basic Law is only censorship by the state or the Bodies attributable to the state. A pre-selection of private bodies, whether contributions will be published or not (e.g. a newspaper editor before the publication of letters to the editor or a forum moderator before or after the publication of contributions in online forums) is therefore not censorship within the meaning of the Basic Law and is constitutionally unobjectionable . At most in the course of the so-called indirect third-party effect of fundamental rights, depending on the circumstances, the status of Article 5 of the Basic Law also comes into play indirectly between private individuals. However, this is then an instrument of interpretation for other laws, not a direct application of the ban on censorship from the Basic Law.

Literature on censorship

A classic statement against the previous censorship is the speech “ Areopagitica ” by John Milton , published in 1644 , similar to the work On Liberty published in 1859 by John Stuart Mill . The classic sociological study on censorship dates from 1911 and is by Vilfredo Pareto : Le mythe vertuiste et la littérature immorale (German: The virtue myth and the immoral literature , 1968).

Artwork about censorship

Art object by the German artist Roland Eugen Beiküfner on the subject of "censorship"

The object “Die Zensur” consists of a plastic globe, a belt from the USA, a sledge from Davos, a sail line from Lindau and an empty violin case. It was made on October 3, 2019 for the Day of German Unity by the German artist Roland Eugen Beiküfner on Lake Constance.

See also

Censorship in individual countries

Web links

Commons : censorship  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: censorship  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Censorship  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Duden | Censorship . Duden . Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  2. a b Klaus Schubert, Martina Klein: Das Politiklexikon, 4th edition . Dietz, Bonn. 2006. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  3. censorship . In: ruhr-uni-bochum.de . Archived from the original on December 18, 2013. (Archive)
  4. Wissen.de: Word origin censorship ( Memento from May 19, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Ulla Otto: The censorship as a problem of the sociology of politics. 1969, pp. 107-114, 130-146; Vilfredo Pareto : The virtue myth and the immoral literature (taken from Otto).
  6. ^ Heinz Pürer, Johannes Raabe: Press in Germany . 3. Edition. UVK, Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-8334-6 , p. 59 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  7. ^ Michael Schaffrath: Newspaper . In: Werner Faulstich (Ed.): Basic knowledge of media . 5th edition. UVK, Konstanz 2004, ISBN 3-8252-8169-8 , p. 491 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  8. Melanie Bär: Preventive supervisory measures in the field of private television. Inaugural dissertation. Tübingen 2003 (PDF; 1.4 MB), p. 81 f.
  9. BVerfGE 7, 198 - Lüth .
  10. Ulla Otto: The literary censorship as a problem of the sociology of politics. 1969, p. 41.