When Fair Play is Politically Incorrect

Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote, “There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people”, extends inequality beyond the commonly accepted notion of the unequal treatment of equals. In a world where political correctness is the new norm, it is becoming common to see the rights of a majority being set aside in a bid to avoid offending a minority.

A colleague recently posted a remark directed at DSTV, the most popular cable TV provider in Nigeria. In it, an apparently riled subscriber lamented over the censoring of the word “God” in many of DSTV’s programmes. In his words, “This is Nigeria. We love that name”. Not having access to a TV with DSTV subscription, I asked my friend if he was sure that DSTV was censoring the word. He responded in the affirmative, and said he has even noticed the censoring in Christian-themed movies.

Why would a public service provider decide to censor a word like “God”? If the claims of different religious groups are believed, at least 80% of the globe’s population are religious to some extent. That number can easily reach 95% in a religious-obsessed country as Nigeria. Is DSTV trying to protect the ears of atheists or agnostics, preventing them from hearing such an “obnoxiously offensive” word? If so, wouldn’t Christian movies be exempt?

Prior to writing this article, an online check showed that a number of subscribers have complained about this censorship—for years. I came across some posts rationalizing that the censorship is being done in order not to “use the Lord’s name in vain”. The argument goes that some religious persons feel offended hearing “God” on air. Apparently, the name is exclusively reserved for dreams and visions of the night. Some other posts paint DSTV as a service merely obeying broadcast regulations.

Whether the censorship is being done to “protect” non-religious people, very-religious people, or to observe regulatory guideline, the policy defies logic. What percentage of DSTV’s subscribers fall within the category of those wanting protection? I can calmly say that that category will wear the minority tag without any opposition. Are the majority not in need of protection against discrimination?

It is easy to attack DSTV without looking at the bigger picture. DSTV is playing by rules actively enforced by a world where political incorrectness is shamed. In this dispensation, it is suicidal to say anything that could be deemed offensive by anyone having the backing of the media. Woe betides anyone who fails to play by the rules.

A September 2015 article by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt laments a new form of political correctness growing in American campuses. Lecturers are expected to avoid books that touch on rape, depression or racism. Where such materials cannot be avoided, the lecturer must include a warning that the book contains such themes, a move akin to ratings placed on movies and games. The reason offered is that victims of rape, depression or racial abuse need to be protected against any trigger words that may cause emotional breakdown.

Before anyone accuses me of callousness, let me say that I consider rape to be a heinous crime. I know people who have suffered the inhumanity of rape, and I understand the emotional effects. I also consider depression as a serious issue that affects many persons. In as much as I empathize with them, I do not see that as sufficient reason to set aside freedom of speech. In the same vein, I see no reason why a majority of TV subscribers should view censored programmes to avoid offending some persons. The same argument could be made about the debate about homosexuality and religious liberties. We all cannot be Thomas Bowdler.

When some irrational Islamists attacked Charlie Hebdo, I joined millions of persons to condemn the attackers and all who shared their view. We argued that the principle of freedom of speech provided sufficient cover for the satirists. Those with extreme religious views were the ones who needed to “take a chill pill”. Is this argument not applicable in the censorship conflict and burdensome protectionism?

Political correctness will end up turning humanity to zombies—a world where conformism is the only route to survival. If divergent views are restricted from being aired, only material vetted by the restrictive sieve of correctness will be seen. Political correctness, as a tool of injustice, may just deprive the world of the strength in diversity.

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