A Government Status Quo in an Ever-Changing World
Government control of the media is a major topic of contention that can extinguish the freedoms and liberties of its citizens. Governments, whether monarchies, dictatorships, or democracies, all have, to a greater or lesser extent, the ability to monitor what is being expressed through the media. The more governments attempt to control television, radio, Internet, and print, the more society is biased to the controlling governments point of view. An objective perspective is then compromised and truth is often difficult to find. Some governments even dole out harsh punishments to individuals who express opinions contrary to the governments politics. In George Orwells novel, 1984, the author displays what he believed the world would be like in that year. Although the year 1984 has come and gone, some aspects of Orwells worldview are still in existence today. Orwells perception of government control over the media in the year 1984 mirrors modern day media censorship in the United States as well as in many foreign countries.
In George Orwells 1984, the government, referred to as the Party, has complete control over its citizens. The Party rules over Oceania, a city that Orwell portrays as a totalitarian society, where the government controls every aspect of the lives of its inhabitants. In Oceania, the government perpetrates false information, distorted ideas, and inaccurate historical events to benefit their own ends. Through control of the media, the Party is able to indoctrinate its beliefs into the minds of its citizens and remain in absolute control. The Party figurehead, Big Brother, is displayed as the most prestigious, honorable, and admired individual in the world. On every street corner, posters of Big Brother are marked with the slogan Big Brother is Watching You. The Party constantly portrays Big Brother as a hero of Oceania, who supposedly once saved Oceania from poverty and suffering and turned it into a thriving community. The Party insists that without Big Brother, Oceania would not be a wonderful place to live. In reality, however, Oceania is not the utopia as the Party describes it to be. In fact, eighty-five percent of the community, known as the proles, lives in abject poverty. Although the proles comprise the majority of the Oceanian population, they are viewed by the government as extremely inconsequential and are seen as natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals (Orwell, 1984, pg. 71). The proles, however, as well as other individuals living in Oceania, cannot accurately see their own reality. Instead, they continue to blindly follow the Partys deceptions, ignorant of the fact that they are being brainwashed. It is not even certain whether Big Brother has died or has ever existed. Instead, Big Brother could simply be a fabrication of the Party used to act as a controlling force over the Oceanians. The main character, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, and although he participates in Party activities, he holds opposing opinions from the Party. Due to Winstons differing beliefs, the reader is informed of the Partys controlling techniques. Winston informs the reader that the Party has the power to create historic figures. While Winston is at work, he is given the task of eliminating one of Big Brothers former officials, Comrade Withers. Previously, Comrade Withers had been vaporized or removed from existence. Vaporization was a method used by the Party to erase a historic figure that no longer served the governments purpose. Winston was forced to eliminate Comrade Withers from the Partys records because he was executed for being an enemy to the Party. Although the Party had once praised Comrade Withers, they could no longer have him in their historic chronicles. Winston invents a person named Comrade Ogilvy and substitutes him in the Partys records for Comrade Withers. Comrade Ogilvy, who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten, he would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne, or Julius Caesar (Orwell, 47-48). What would the Party due with the original records of Comrade Withers? The Party would simply drop the records into the memory hole, in which the archives would travel to a furnace, and be forgotten forever. Comrade Ogilvy is a prime example of how easily the Party is able to control the minds of the citizens through fraudulent media. Unquestionably, the Party uses absolute control over the media to have total supremacy over ever aspect of the peoples lives.
The Partys control over the media in 1984 has marked similarities to the governments control over the media in the United States of America. A prime example of a Party practice that exists within the United States today is the control of information that is released to the public. While the United States government may not edit notable facts or create new historical figures, the United States government does indeed limit the information that is released to the public. The Central Intelligence Agency, commonly referred to as the CIA, is responsible for gathering, processing, and analyzing information in the United States. The CIA monitors issues occurring in the world to determine whether they pose serious threats harmful to the United States. The Director of the CIA works for the President of the United States, however, he must account to the United States Congress for its military actions. Often, the interactions between the Director of the CIA and Congress are not shared with the general public, and instead, citizens are left uninformed, and sometimes, misinformed. One Director of the CIA, however, did not remain quiet about his interactions with Congress. This director was William E. Colby. Colby became an extremely active member of the CIA after World War II and during the Vietnam War, he became the Director of the CIA. Colby was quick to adopt a policy of openness about U.S. intelligence activities to different committees within the government itself, and also, to the citizens of the United States. While Colby revealed the honorable tasks that took place under the CIA, he also acted as a muckraker, exposing the immoral truths in the CIA that were being held secret. Colbys position as Director of CIA was hastily replaced by George H. W. Bush under President Gerald Ford. Colbys release from his position in the CIA is rather similar to Winstons release from position in the Party. When Winstons opposing opinions against the Party were revealed to the Though Police, Winston was brought into the Ministry of Love, where ironically, there was no love to be found. Instead, Winston was turned into an unperson like Comrade Withers. Winstons name was wiped from existence and erased from every historic document that existed. Winston Smith was completely eradicated. Correspondingly, when Colby had revealed the immoral truths behind the CIA, he was discharged from his position and was later wiped from existence. While the United States government did not imprison Colby as had been done to Winston, there have been many suspicions about Colbys mysterious death in 1996. Colby reportedly was alone at his weekend house in Maryland when he went to work on his sailboat at a nearby harbor. Colbys body was found underwater nine days later. While doctors and other reports claimed that Colbys death was most likely accidental, other sources are skeptical about the actual cause of death. Many individuals, including Colbys close friend Zalin Grant, claim that the United States government was responsible for Colbys demise. In an article written by Zalin Grant, Grant explains, both the CIA and FBI ignored Colbys death and let a county sheriffs office run the investigation (Zalin Grant, War Tales, 1). This, he believes, is because the Untied States government was involved in Colbys death. While no one is exactly positive of how Colby died, his mysterious death and release from his position as CIA Director point to the United States government control on how information is released to the public and what information is kept strictly confidential. Furthermore, a website entitled, WikiLeaks, is an online site that publishes information from anonymous sources and informants. WikiLeaks has released numerous documents to bring important news and information to the public so that readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth (What is WikiLeaks, 1) Numerous reports exist of the jailing of journalists within the United States who have released government information to the public. This website provides a platform for journalists and the like to supply government information to the public that would otherwise be kept from them. Due to the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution that allows freedom of the press, Congress is unable to pass a law that would prevent WikiLeaks from providing such information to constituents. The United States government, however, is presently trying to terminate the WikiLeaks website and is encouraging search engines to prevent the WikiLeaks website from appearing in their searches. Recently, WikiLeaks released Iraq War Logs that revealed a compilation of hidden documents about the war in Afghanistan as well as a map that tracked thousands of unknown Iraqi deaths. WikiLeaks has exposed the secret terror behind the Afghanistan war and has even uncovered the inhumane treatment prisoners received in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While the United States government claims that these files released by WikiLeaks were available on a computer application known as BitTorrent, the password was only available to those who knew where to look (WikiLeaks, 1). This release of secret information relates to the Partys containment of clandestine intelligence in George Orwells 1984. Both the Party and the United States government have the power to control information released to the public. Both governments share the ability of limiting knowledge, hiding information from the public, and coercing citizens to submission through varying degrees of punishment.
The United States is not the only country with a government that shares similar control mechanisms over the media as utilized by the Party in the novel 1984. George Orwell wrote 1984 as a prediction of how the world would function in that year. Therefore, Orwells novel does not relate solely to the United States government. Instead, the Partys control over media can be easily compared with foreign governments worldwide. The Chinese government has one of the biggest censorship systems in the entire world. Chinese government authorities block millions of websites in China in order to propagate what they consider to be the appropriate perspective of society. Blogs, personal websites, other sites that the Chinese government deem harmful to society are blocked without notice, denying Chinese citizens of their human rights. The writers of these blogs or websites are often sentenced to jail or placed under house arrest. Many censored websites include pro-democracy groups, pro-health care organizations, and information on government scandals. The Chinese government has been successful in blocking these small personal websites and they have also had success in banning larger global websites as well. The Chinese government forced Google search engine to cooperate with their restrictions by creating a censored search engine to be used by the Chinese public. In order to complete the enormous task of monitoring what over one billion Chinese Internet users are viewing, a human Internet blocking force of over thirty thousand officials monitor the World Wide Web constantly. These officials can easily be related to the members of the Inner Party and the Outer Party in Orwells 1984. The Party, like the Chinese government, has absolute power over the media. The members of the Party act like the officials in China who monitor the Internet, as both groups control the media, limiting the publics ability to obtain knowledge and information. These officials, supervising the Internet, are often in charge of censoring topics about previous historical events. For instance, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government restricted Internet users from voicing their opinions by banning Blogger, Flickr, Tubmlr, Huffington Post, Hotmail, and Twitter. Many social websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and even the video sharing website known as YouTube have been taken away from Chinese Internet users. Ma Wen, a Director of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention and Minister of Supervision of China, exemplified the true empowerment of the Chinese government over the media by exclaiming, If the government is a computer; the supervisory organs should be its anti-virus software. This quote from Big Brother of China truly illustrates that the supervision of the Internet in China acts as an anti-virus software, destroying any posing threats to the Chinese government without any consent of the people. Undoubtedly, the Chinese government shares countless parallels with the Partys overpowering control over the media, restricting the publics inalienable human rights.
In George Orwells 1984, the Party irrefutably dismisses the entitlements of the public by taking complete control over the media. Like the Party, the governments of the United States and China have also restricted freedom of speech and press. When individuals oppose the governments political belief system, they are often the victims of some sort of punishment. Individuals may not be exterminated from existence like in the novel 1984, but governments can impose stiff penalties on dissidents in the form of imprisonment and economic sanctions. Governments that seize control of the media exchange the peoples liberties and freedoms in hope of obtaining a surrendered loyalty and submission to government. Such a contrived ideology may help to secure the position of government officials, but it quenches the very life and breath of its people. Almost thirty years have passed since the year 1984, but Orwells view of the world is still inherently accurate. With each form of world government comes a greater of lesser degree of government control on the media. While we hail the freedoms of democracy in our own country, one needs to examine only a little further to see our own subtle government controls in place, as in the banned book list. Governments abroad are less delicate in their control of the media. China, for example, will suppress freedom of speech through punishment, imprisonment, and economic sanctions, such as the termination of ones job. Freedom of speech and press can give birth to new ideas and new theologies; freedom in the arts can birth creativity and innovation; freedom in the media exposes the wrongs, leads to the truth, and gives us the opportunity to change for the better. To smother such a freedom is to destroy life itself.
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