Undeniably Censored

Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.’ But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.

– Ai Weiwei

The other day I wrote a post about my amazement at how the Sultan of Brunei is implementing strict Sharia laws. That sparked a few memories, so now I wish to have a bit of a ramble. Today it will be about the censorship we experienced there.

When I lived there, censorship was undeniably bestowed onto the people. Take into account that this was before the time when internet was commonplace. I think it’s actually just brushing on before the time that internet existed.

I remember on TV how funny things would occur. We would be watching a film and then suddenly, when the main actors were looking all dovey eyed and about to kiss within the next 10 seconds, the screen would just go black. Then a few seconds later they would just jump straight onto the next scene.

The next example might just make you scratch your head. Brunei has quite a percentage of Chinese people living there, so celebrating Chinese New Year is a big thing. I remember when I was there, we entered into the Year of the Pig. We were all pretty excited and ready to visit our Chinese friends to wish them luck and join in their celebrations. We got up that morning, turned on the TV, and a lady on the news said: Congratulations, we have entered the Year of the Fish.

The Year of the Fish?

Well you see, pigs are not welcome in Islam so the national TV channel invented the Year of the Fish.

Then there was the press. The messages given in the newspapers were obviously manipulated. I remember how there was a local newspaper where one side of the newspaper was in English and the other was in Malay. It was amusing to see how the same story would be completely turned around when it was written in Malay (directed to the local people) or in English (directed to the expats living there).

At that time my parents were subscribing to Time magazine. Wow, now these got well censored! The magazine was supposed to come in a plastic wrapping. More often than not, it would arrive opened. It would also arrive censored. I remember receiving copies with whole pages ripped out. Other times it would arrive with images or stories scribbled out with thick black marker pens. This was way too much. Imagine receiving your private correspondence with parts torn away or erased.

I’m certain that most countries in the world do carry out censorship, some in a much heavier way than others. I wanted to share about our censorship experiences in Brunei only because it was so blatant, and even ridiculous sometimes. I would imagine that if I were to live in certain countries, even this post might be censored, which is quite a scary thought because even though I usually try to keep a light (and scrumptious) tone to my blog, it is also the space where I want to share my experiences no matter how surprising they may seem.

As I live in Spain now, I’m pretty certain that the government does apply some censorship into the news, but nowhere near as much as what we experienced in Brunei. I think that the censorship is light enough so that, like in the quote above, once the information travels through the internet and gets out of hand, the people have the last word.

What kind of censorship do you experience where you live?

Oh, and what has my black and white photo of flowers have to do with all this. Nothing really. I just extremely belatedly found out where the real black and white function on my camera is. I censored the beautiful colours off the flowers…

Thank you for reading!

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  1. Guillermina Bósquez Stover 2014-05-15 at 02:22

    Are you kidding? I live in the area of the U.S. of A. called the “Bible Belt”!!! Although the true “Bible Belt” is the Deep South, here in Texas it exists, believe me. So much hypocrisy entwined with religiosity, oy vey… Did you ever see the musical, “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”? It’s with Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and Charles Durning. If you ever have an opportunity to rent it, see it! It is hilarious. Especially the parts played by Dom DeLuise (a TV reporter) and Charles Durning (a politician). Delicious…

    1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 16:34

      Guillermina, I didn’t know. So you can feel this in daily (or nearly daily if not) life?
      And I didn’t know about that musical but it sounds pretty funny! xx

  2. Bunny Eats Design 2014-05-15 at 03:41

    I suppose I was born in the year of the fish!

    You could have pixelated or drawn a black box over the stamen or the sexual organs of the flower! Flowers are very sexual didn’t you know?

    I am STRONGLY against censorship. I believe that freedom of speech to discuss new ideas is really important. If you don’t trust that the people will make good decisions, inform them. Lobby if you must, but do not avoid the conversation completely.

    Censorship is so narrow-minded and if you censor sex, it makes people repressed. I am not openly sexual or promiscuous but sex is natural. In countries where sex is taboo, there are all sorts of problems. Especially when dealing with issues of consent or rape. You cannot pretend that sex doesn’t exist and then wonder why people don’t understand the concepts of consent or rape. There needs to be discussion in order to educate.

    I do believe in ratings (R18, R16) to protect children from adult concepts like sex, drug use and violence. But for adults, there should be no censorship.

    We have 2 news channels here in New Zealand. One is owned by the government and the other is more liberal. I watch the liberal one, but from time to time, I’ll watch the government one and I am always horrified by how different they report the same news.

    1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 16:42

      Yeah, now you know it was the year of the fish 😉 Gosh yes, I should have censored the flower more!! haha
      Apart from censoring sex there, they would censor anything that they wanted to. So for example I remember some issues of the Time magazine where the main story was on Christianity, my goodness, those issues arrived to us sort of in pieces, whole pages torn away and black marker pen on everything!
      I have visited a few Middle Eastern countries and when I am women, one of the issues they complain is how mes there can get away so easily with rape. You’re right, if it wasn’t so censored and there was more awareness to talk about these things, some crimes may be avoided.
      It’s amazing how the governments control the messages on their newspapers and tv channels, isn’t it?

      1. Bunny Eats Design 2014-05-15 at 23:50

        The Koala and I are quite feminist in the fact that we think that women should be in powerful roles. Women are more likely to make humane, fair, unselfish decisions. It sounds sexist, I know but imagine a world where laws were written by women. They would not only look after women, they would look after all people.

        1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 23:54

          It’s a coincidence I just watched a video of this lady giving a speech. She was the one that plucked up the courage to drive in Saudi Arabia and spark change to empower women to drive – and therefore to produce change in their society. It was great, just as you say, she stood up not only to empower the women but for a change in her people 🙂

  3. Dalo 2013 2014-05-15 at 04:56

    Wow, you really have had some pretty major censorship issues growing up. Year of the Fish is pretty funny 🙂 Although what is happening in Brunei is definitely not funny…really sad for the population to be controlled so tightly. Politics and government on the other hand, just love censorship and power in the short-term but in the long-term it will backfire and those in power will be ousted.

    The censorship of color on your flowers…fantastic and appropriate. Cheers to a great week for you Sofia!

    1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 16:47

      If I lived in Brunei now and wrote this post, I would probably have the police at my door right now giving me 48 hours to leave the country forever. When I lived there, that happened to various people that my parents knew for very silly acts – such as not pulling your car over and putting your life to a standstill because the Sultan is driving behind you in his gold car and doesn’t want you in front of him. Yes, we know a lady that had that happened to her, she was new in the country and didn’t know these rules. And so on…
      I wonder if these kinds of things still happen now. Though I bet you they do if he wants to put those new laws in place.
      Have a great weekend Randy 🙂

      1. Dalo 2013 2014-05-15 at 23:32

        I too wonder how I would fare in such a society (actually, I have a pretty good idea ~ the sad fate of a revolutionary!

        I think you are right, the way of life there now is just stifling oppression. People still have dreams and will pursue them, but I think their dreams are now just re-focused on family/friends and just making it through the day. You too have a great weekend.

        1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 23:37

          Well I was actually going to ask you as you probably would have a good idea due to where you spend some of your time now. So how do you see that in some of the societies you are in?

          1. Dalo 2013 2014-05-15 at 23:52

            When I was in China in ’91 teaching, I had an article about the Tiananmen Square “massacre” of ’89 I brought with me from the States, and I often would have small groups between 2-3 people come to my room for tea and we would discuss an article (usually a business or economics article), and one week I had them read this article. The discussion was amazing…incredible how my students opened up. Of course, after several days, I got reported and while the university officials were very polite, they made it clear that this was not allowed and I could get kicked out of China if I continued.

            The reaction of the officials was not much of a shock to me (telling me to stop), but what was surprising was that they were really polite (even a little intrigued, wanting to know how I and the West felt…), and this made me understand that no matter how a regime wants to hide & control their population, it is impossible. The human spirit will eventually win out, and freedom will be achieved. At least those are the thoughts of the optimist in me.

            Let me know when you want to go to Brunei and I will join you…we can quietly begin our revolutionary plan of freeing the population from tyranny. 🙂

            1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 23:58

              What an experience! Was it quite shocking for you at that very beginning, or did you expect something like that? OK you said you expected it…
              I think that’s a great plan. Brunei is a tiny country so once we’ve succeeded there, we can try China for example 😉

              1. Dalo 2013 2014-05-16 at 00:15

                Very good, since Brunei is tiny it should easy for us…and then we can work our way up to North Korea and China 🙂 I would add Myanmar… but to be honest, Myanmar really seemed open and free (the Buddhist monks and youths are not afraid of anything). So maybe we just photograph in Myanmar/Laos/Cambodia 🙂

                1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-16 at 08:27

                  I think that’s a brilliant plan. But before Myanmar we can stay in Borneo and photograph the rain forrest too! 🙂

                2. Dalo 2013 2014-05-16 at 09:06

                  Hey, great idea…I’ve never been and definitely need to go there as well! I’m going to start packing tonight 🙂

                3. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-16 at 09:11

                  I was born there! (In the Indonesian side of course). If we’re lucky we might see an orang utan 😉

                4. Dalo 2013 2014-05-16 at 09:42

                  That’s right, you were born there and that is great news, as now we have a place to stay 🙂 Ha, ha…I think we should stay there a month to make sure we get all the photos we can!

              1. Dalo 2013 2014-05-16 at 00:21

                Yes, there were generally two class monitors in each class who were students (and higher members of the party)…and we (teachers) were never told who were the monitors. However, it usually only took a month or less before we figured out who the lead monitor was, but the second one honestly I never could figure out (and funny, after the first few days of classes it never really concerned me much).

                In this case, it think it was just that I created an issues with students who were a bit excited about being able to discuss such a thing with me that it alerted other teachers/officials who investigated this a bit more…thus my getting into a bit of trouble. I also think because I did not push any agenda onto my students (just curious to hear their vastly different takes on the incident), the university handled it so well and politely.

                1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-16 at 08:39

                  It sounds a bit surreal to have monitors between your own students. Lucky they handled it politely and did not make an awful situation out of it.

  4. apartmentwife 2014-05-15 at 05:27

    aww sofia, what a lovely post – it’s always interesting for me to read personal accounts of things that are being dissected and analyzed on the news, and hearing your stories – watching romantic movies & celebrating ‘the year of the fish’ – make the discussion about censorship feel much more grounded in personal experience (as opposed to the sweeping examples so often used in the news).

  5. Lignum Draco 2014-05-15 at 15:23

    The liberties we have here in Australia generally go unappreciated, until you hear things like this.

  6. Joyce 2014-05-15 at 21:36

    That is amazing about your mail. Can’t you just imagine that such a task must take an army of employees?

    1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-15 at 23:46

      Joyce I thought of that while writing it! Lucky for them Brunei is tiny and the population is small. Still, can you imagine doing that? I wonder if the people that do that for their job think they are doing right?

  7. Charlotte Hoather 2014-05-20 at 15:55

    Very interesting 🙂 censorship in the UK isn’t something I’m aware of.

    1. Sofia // Papaya Pieces 2014-05-20 at 16:36

      Or at least if it exists it must be in the faintest of forms.. Have a lovely week!


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