Earlier this year, a “documentary” was released that purported to show that vaccines for childhood diseases cause autism. The documentary, Vaxxed, was refused a showing by one film festival but accepted by another. This was the subject of a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial, Anti-vax quackery sees light despite De Niro snub. The Star-Ledger wrote:
It's disappointing that the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan has decided to show an anti-vaccine film by a disgraced conspiracy theorist, after a leading medical ethicist dubbed it "nonsense on stilts" and Robert De Niro wisely yanked it from the Tribeca Film Festival.
Bad call. The crazies behind this film, called "Vaxxed," are predictably portraying themselves as standing up to "the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art and truth."
But claims of "censorship" do not a noble cause make. Deniers of the Holocaust or the Newtown shooting would surely say the same things, had they made propaganda peddling their dangerous and false theories and called it a "documentary" -- but would any self-respecting outlet screen it?
The issue of the validity of the claims of the anti-vaccine crowd aside, the Star-Ledger is apparently confused about the meaning of “censorship.”
I left these comments:
“But claims of ‘censorship’ do not a noble cause make.”
Actually, fighting censorship is a very noble cause. But first, censorship in this context must be properly understood.
Only the government can censor. The First Amendment forbids the government to legally —i.e., forcibly—prevent people from expressing their ideas. Free speech does not mean a handout. It does not mean someone must provide you with a platform to speak. The “free” in free speech means the absence of physical coercion. Free speech means the government can not stop the makers of the anti-vaccine film from making the film, and must prosecute anyone who tries to use force to stop the playing of the film. Free speech does not mean the Tribeca Film Festival must show the film. Tribeca is not censoring the film. Not supporting something you disagree with is not censorship. If the government banned the film, that would be censorship.
Whether it’s a good idea for DiNiro to yank the film is another question. Ignoring bad ideas won’t make them go away. Exposing and then publically rebutting them logically would do more to discredit the anti-vaccine case than ignoring it. But, no, Di Niro was not censoring. He acted consistent with the principles of the First Amendment.
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