Political Correctness Isn't What You Think It Is

By Jay Coonan

My first experience with censorship was while I was working for an English language propaganda outlet in Myanmar. I was hired to help reform the state-media newspaper, the Global New Light of Myanmar, after it had been broken up by a joint venture between Japanese Kyoto News and the Myanmar government Ministry of Information - which controls it via various bureaucratic strings. My censored editorial discussed how the Myanmar government and local media outlets should adhere to the basic principles of human rights and allow for the right to self-identification – a fundamental human right the Myanmar government denies the Rohingya population


The article was held for two weeks by the chief-editor, and when it was finally printed it had been heavily edited without my permission. I shouldn’t have been all that surprised the piece was withheld for as long as it was because of what I wrote on my first day.

I had reported on the deaths of Rohingya people in the Mediterranean Sea who were attempting to reach Greece from Turkey. I had spoken to the Turkish ambassador to Myanmar who knew nothing, been hung up on by various levels of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and had calls left unanswered from the Myanmar consulate in Ankara; I reported all of this and the reports of the deaths at sea, and I did my job as a journalist by reporting fact.

After this went through on the front page I was pleased that I had been the first to use the word Rohingya in the Global New Light of Myanmar, and to its avoid the hawkish censors. I was later told that it had angered the Minister of Information, Dr. Pe Myint (once a journalist himself, who is a member of the National League for Democracy led government). I figured the reason he had been angered is because someone above him was angry, whether military or civilian - or possibly him. I will never know.

Censorship is not unique to totalitarianism or fascist governance. It is prevalent throughout the world and all cultures. Censorship is the reaction to an attack on the morals of dominant thought and belief in the current sociocultural climate, organised by a political or social elite – see David Marr’s piece in the Guardian about the banning of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth in Australia.

The reason why people “suppress” climate denial is because valid scientific evidence collected over decades by accredited scientists have told us climate change is real, that’s not a matter of opinion, that’s a matter of fact. The reason why anti-abortion protestors are fined $5000 is because they attempted to harass patients in public - which is against the law; since when was it ever “free speech” to publicly harass someone based on your religious belief? Quite frankly these two situations have nothing to do with political correctness or freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech isn’t the right to offend or create a platform to blatantly destroy researched knowledge, it is the right to argue detailed fact over opinion/ ideology.

Political correctness is used by a group wielding a perceived higher moral standard that they claim is shared by the majority of citizens, it is used to intentionally suppress the rights of a marginalised community, by using; state, social and economic power. Freedom of speech isn’t the right to offend or create a platform to blatantly destroy researched knowledge, it is the right to argue detailed fact over opinion/ ideology. Those who claim their freedom of speech is under attack are usually the ones seeking to repress individuals within society over ideological opinion/ belief.

Political correctness is government departments suppressing information from the public regarding asylum seeker arrivals by sea, or the abuse, suicides, disease in detention centres; it’s the heavily flawed Freedom of Information laws that allow bureaucrats to hide and redact important information that could potentially skew their Minister in a bad light. Political correctness is being in a position of power and intentionally obscuring the truth to fit a morally biased perception.

Political correctness is not protesting against racism, or protesting against the suppression of rights and freedoms of marginalised individuals; and nor is it stopping the use of offensive language directed at marginalised individuals. As an open democracy, we should have the common sense and acceptance to be open to other ways of life from lived experience, to hear about it, to learn from it and use this information to make the world a better place for everyone, and not to suppress it because it doesn’t fit an assumed cultural narrative.

METIOR EditorComment