17. What is corporate censorship?

Corporate censorship occurs when any major corporation, whose business decisions have broad reaching effects into how an industry functions, and that controls a significant percentage of the share of the market, makes the choice to implement restrictions on what product manufacturers can produce to gain access to the free market system or what customers can purchase, watch, read, say, or listen to in conjunction with their relationship with that business, with an intent of silencing the opinions of those which the corporation deems objectionable in some way.

As it applies to the music industry, for example, when a mega-corporation like Wal-Mart (where reportedly as much as 10% of the nation's album sales are being made) decides to restrict sales to that which is deemed "safe" by someone within that company, it has the same kind of chilling effect on the music community as a full on governmental legislative attack would. It basically works as a corporate mechanism to keep the music industry in line, creating a situation where the artists are free, but only to do as they are told or face economic ruin or at least a MUCH tougher road to success than other more conforming artists will face. It is corporate censorship just as strong as governmental censorship when restrictions are placed industrywide, and it goes completely against the SPIRIT of freedom this country was founded on while not directly violating the Constitution. The only difference is one form of censorship will get you thrown in jail, while the other will make you homeless and unable to make a livable wage with your chosen music if taken to the fullest extreme. We feel it to be very important that the phrase "corporate censorship" begin to take root in our daily political vocabulary as this is the wave of the future that will stifle our freedoms as surely as the government could ever do, especially if current trends of mega-mergers among corporate giants continues to put more and more decision making power into the hands of fewer and fewer individuals. We have been sounding the alarm for this ever since the first PMRC hearings with Tipper Gore, and still very few seem to be listening to what is coming down the road if this situation is not reversed.

What this type of corporate censorship creates is a situation where only the safe, homogenized bands can receive the full backing and support of the industry. It doesn't hurt the huge established artists so much as it does the struggling artists, though it does have an impact all the way to the top. Say you have two bands signed to a small, independent label. Band A is a "squeaky-clean, non-offensive to anyone" kind of act, while Band B is more of an act that doesn't hide it's rough edges and tackles controversial issues and things that lead some people to become offended. Band A gets the full support of everyone involved in the music industry and no barriers to sales. After a year, their album sells say 75,000 copies. Band B meanwhile, is told to either clean up their act or face a situation where no children can purchase their music at over half the record stores in the country, and not even any adults can purchase their music at stores like Wal-Mart. They choose to stand for their rights and not back down to the pressure. As a result, their album only sells 50,000 copies. So now, when the major labels start knocking on the indie labels doors to see who is "hot" enough to sign saleswise, they are going to sign band A and keep them moving up the ladder so to speak, while Band B must continue to struggle. This is why it is so rare to see a TRUE underground artist or style get to any level of prominence and why the Grammy Awards ceremonies for those at the top are so BORING year in and year out.

Another primary difference between true governmental censorship and corporate censorship is the fact that those facing restrictions have no Constitution rights to protect them from corporate censorship and thus, have no ability to challenge restrictory policies in court. We feel that this is one of the primary reasons that people that are for governmental censorship tend to so often align themselves with big-business friendly economic conservatism. They realize that they have a much better chance at silencing potentially offensive speech through corporate policies than through government controls (because those damn Constitutional rights keep standing in their way of achieving their desired oppression). The more powerful the major corporations that have a sympathetic ear for the easily offended become, the greater the effect their restrictive policies will have, and so that is why you see the unholy alliance between religious organizations for censorship promoting economic policy to benefit many major corporations.

The only remedy for corporate censorship that we have, other than federal anti-trust laws to prevent monopolistic practices, is the boycott. When a major corporation acts in a manner hostile to the freedom of speech of the product manufacturers and/or the consumers, it is imperative that we exercise our power of choice with our purchasing habits to not give our money to those companies wherever possible. Just as important as not giving them our money, we must also make it a point to tell the management of the company why we are choosing to not spend our money with them. If enough people choose to only spend their money with free-speech friendly corporations in any industry where such concerns are relevant, then one of two things will happen: (1) the company seeking to place restrictions on material will back off from that policy in an effort to regain their customers, or (2) another company will serve these customers according to their wishes and establish themselves in the marketplace, potentially taking the market share previously held by the company placing restrictions to the detriment of the free expression of their suppliers/customers.


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