Censorship by the Right and Left

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    By Martin LeFevre,

    I am perhaps one of the few columnists on the Net that bears the dubious distinction of having been censored by both the far Right and the far Left.

    The Chico Enterprise-Record (E-R) is a very conservative newspaper in a conservative California Central Valley county, though Chico has the progressive gloss of a college town.

    I was able to get my column into the hidebound local paper on my return to Chico in the mid-’90-‘s. Having lived here for a while in mid-‘70’s, when more than a whiff of hippiedom’s heyday was still in the air, I knew from the beginning my column was, to mix a metaphor, on thin ice. Townspeople would often remark, “I can’t believe your column is in the E-R.”

    I’d agreed with the features editor that I wouldn’t write on politics, and just do meditative and philosophical pieces. Even so, I sensed my nature description/meditation pieces rubbed the Christian fundamentalist editors the wrong way. So I made sure that they regularly had evidence, in the form of letters and emails, of strong readership from all sectors of local society.

    Alas, I transgressed once, and wrote a political column. And that was all it took to get rid of what had become a thorn in the editors’ sides.

    It happened like this. Though it seems like ancient history now, I’d read a story in September 1998 about how outgoing coordinator of the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, Denis Halliday, had launched a scathing attack on the policy of sanctions, branding them ” a totally bankrupt concept”.

    After the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people killed outright in the US/UK invasion in 2003, the effect of sanctions on young children and women in the ‘90’s reads like a footnote to history. But as Halliday said at the time, “4,000 to 5,000 children were dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation.” (The oil-for-food program was the real run-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, and President Clinton was largely responsible for it.)

    When I submitted a column about the effects of the sanctions on women and children, the Enterprise-Record simply didn’t run the piece. A short while later, they cut my column altogether, without notice or explanation after three years.

    Fast forward to 2010. The Net has overtaken newspapers, local and national, as the main source of information for most people. My column “Meditations” now included a political component. It appeared for eight years in a big Left-wing site out of New Zealand, called “Scoop.”

    The problem was that I retained the spiritual side of the column, which increasingly rankled the dyed-in-the-wool atheists that owned and ran the site. (The editor even runs a series every year at Easter written by a stigmatic from South America, a woman who bears marks on her hands and feet resembling Jesus’ crucifixion. Apparently he thinks it’s a good way to ridicule religion.)

    Half my columns in Scoop were political; the other half widely read contemplative pieces, without reference to organized religion, drawing from meditations in nature. Though “Meditations” was almost always in the top ten on New Zealand’s ‘Scoop,’ I often had the same feeling I had writing for the local Right-wing newspaper, the E-R.

    Sure enough, after doing every passive aggressive thing they could over a period of months to get me to quit,  ‘Scoop’ finally stopped running “Meditations” altogether at the end of last August. Eight years of contributing content gratis without so much as a thank you.

    Turns out the boilerplate-Left ‘Scoop’ editors didn’t like their worldview challenged by “Meditations” anymore than the far Right editors of the Enterprise-Record did.

    My hard won lesson is that the far Right and the far Left are two sides of the same coin, spiritually and politically.

    Adding insult to injury, many site editors on the Net have the attitude by that they are doing writers a favor by running their columns.

    Censorship is not a blatant thing in the West, as it is in China and other places. It is more internalized and insidious. Indeed, I would argue market-driven self-censorship is more injurious to writers and readers spirits than suppression by the State.

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