Take, for instance, the question of censorship. I think that most of us can agree that negative censorship - particularly the state or other powerful individuals stopping the rest of us from speaking our minds or bringing evidence into the public domain - should be kept to a minimum.
There is, of course the 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' defence of censorship. Then there is the apparent rights that we all have to be free of damaging defamatory attacks that are based upon fiction. Other areas where we accept censorship - however grudgingly - are the D-Notice-type censorship in which the state protects it's ability to act against it's enemies or to defend itself and it's officials from personal attack.
I don't think that there are many of us that don't accept - in principle at least - the need for any of these forms of censorship - and I'm sure that there are others that I've missed along the way that we're all happy with.
However, all of these forms of censorship are rightly contested. They can often be abused to silence people who reveal something that we all really ought to be told. They can be used disproportionately, used in a way that has undesirable or unexpected consequences, or they can be used to mask instances of where the state - or other agencies - are doing something that they shouldn't be doing in the first place. Thus, I suspect, 99% of public debate on the matter.
But what about the question of positive censorship? I find that most of the discussions about censorship are grounded firmly in the view that we should be free from any impositions placed upon us by the general will. It's sterile ground and it often silences what are - for me - the big questions:
- Should powerful or wealthy agencies be allowed to drown out rival messages by using hefty advertising or PR budgets?
- Should we collectively be taking steps to ensure that there is a well-funded ecology of people who are researching the claims of commercial organisations and governments and providing commentary and counter-evidence?
- Should people with money or time-resources be able to use the libel laws more effectively than the rest of us?
- Should any business own media interests - particularly in proportions that suggest the word 'monopoly' - that allow them to amplify or promote their commercial interests at the expense of their rivals?
- Should any organisation, business or government body be allowed to get itself into a position where it exerts a monopoly over the way it is described? Government departments and civil servants certainly have this in a way that gadget manufacturers don't.
- Should anyone be able to monopolise the indexing of other people's content in a way that undermines their ability to produce it?
If there were five equal-ish competing Googles, each of which wanted to build the best permissive index of particular pieces of content while providing us with tools that allow us to determine how our content is indexed, I doubt if broadcasters or newspapers would be laying any journalists off.
Quite the reverse.
I could go on and on thinking aloud about this one, but I'd be interested to know if this is something that anyone else has done any work on?