“”Wanna talk about censorship? Can't do that, it's been censored!
“”Politically, there exists only what the public knows to exist.
("Politicamente, só existe aquilo que o público sabe que existe.")
|—António de Oliveira Salazar, 1933,|
on the foundation of the Secretariado Nacional de Informação
(the propaganda ministry)
Censorship usually refers to the state's engaging in activities designed to suppress certain information or ideas. In the past, this has been done by burning books, jailing dissidents, and swamping people with government propaganda. In modern times, the same techniques can be used, but in places like China it is complemented with a nation-wide Internet firewall and the co-option of journalists.
In a Nutshell
The worst thing about censorship is this has been censored.
More generally, the term is also used any time people in positions of power try to prevent facts or ideas embarrassing to them from coming to light. This can be done by editorial boards of periodicals and journals, or by those who run web sites.
It should be noted that, while citizens in most Western countries are safe against government censorship, this type is not (and probably should not be) illegal. To force a journal or web site to promote ideas the owners and editors find anathema would also be a violation of free speech.
Burying the needle in straw
In modern times, due to ubiquitous channels of mass communication, a kind of censorship can be performed (intentionally or otherwise) by swamping the people with other information to hide some particular point.
Counterprotests "shouting down" a group of people are sometimes accused of being censorship, but since they don't usually actually prevent or deny the free expression of what they are protesting, again, this is not really censorship. But the waters can get murky at times!
Also, there is the now almost time-honored way of releasing "bad" political news - do it on Friday evening, after the major news outlets have wrapped up their stories. By Monday, it's not news any more, and often gets much less attention that it might have otherwise. This was brought to light when someone mentioned that 11th September 2001 was a "good day to bury bad news".
Free speech zones
The United States has recently seen more use of this insidious form of censorship. In order to "accommodate" demonstrators at high-profile events, they are shepherded into a pre-assigned area rather being allowed their right of free assembly. These areas are usually placed well out of the media spotlight - for instance, at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention in Boston, the "free speech zone" was some distance away from the building where the convention was held - in a wasteland of construction debris and fences under a roadway that was partially dismantled.
If the Bible were a new book , and not sensitive for religious reasons, it would certainly continue to face censorship in many or most Western countries for its unsuitable content. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, Bible translations into local languages were often censored or prohibited.
Censorship in films
This varies depending on the country and local views and laws.
Many "rental" and even "on sale" videos are censored. Scenes involving nudity, especially of the male frontal variety, are usually removed. Sometimes one will see both versions on offer, with different ratings on the box. When offered as television broadcasts, similar steps are also taken, with additional editing often employed to make the film fit its time slot. This is sometimes done to lower the level of gore for a film to be broadcast at particular times. For American television in particular, bad words (which are considered worse than all-out gun-toting violence) are also bleeped, cut, or voiced over.
In some parts of continental Europe there is almost no censorship of sexual scenes. In Spain, for example, late-night free-to-air local channels may broadcast uncut hardcore pornography.
In the UK, the BBFC will not censor movies without the permission of the film's producers, but this censorship may be necessary in order to give the movie a specific rating. For example, to preserve its PG rating, Star Wars Episode II is censored to remove a headbutt that would have given the film a 12A rating if it had been left in. Similar guidelines apply for nudity and bad language.
On television, most types of nudity are usually allowed to be shown after the "watershed" of 9pm, except for shots of an erect penis, which are forbidden. Scenes of simulated sexual activity are permitted; real depictions of sex are typically not.
Producers of films also engage in two kinds of self censorship. Often just one scene or shot is all that it takes to change a film's rating. Both kinds involve paying attention to the "standards" while making the film in order to achieve the desired rating. One seeks to obtain a "friendly" rating (such as G or PG in the US) by reducing objectionable material, possibly due to a contractual obligation to keep the film below a certain level. The other, quite perversely, seeks to obtain a racier, or cooler, rating in order to promote the film's "adultness", usually to teenagers who wouldn't be caught dead paying to watch a "family friendly" movie. This can certainly be seen with so-called "torture porn" movies, where the aim is often to film something so horrific it is banned, or must be cut, to allow the film to go on general release. Such scenes later emerge as viral trailers for the film, and are undoubtedly anticlimatic.
Film-makers will also engage in a practice not closely related to censorship, but interesting nonetheless, where they include a scene or a line intending for it to be rejected by the producers or studio, in order to cover for other slightly less "objectionable" material. One example is the line "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school", from Fight Club, which was originally presented as "I want to have your abortion" as the line they could back down from. (The latter line "I want to have your abortion" was actually the original line from the book.)