What is Soft Censorship?

Official ‘soft censorship’, or ‘indirect government censorship’, describes an array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.

Soft censorship is used to promote positive coverage of—and to punish media outlets that criticize—officials or their actions. It is the practice of influencing news coverage of state bodies and officials and their policies and activities through allocation or withholding of state media spending (subsidies, advertising, and other media contracts or assistance), or selective application of licensing, permits or regulations, to: shape the broad media landscape; promote or diminish the economic viability of specific media houses or outlets; and/or reward or punish content produced by individual media workers.

Why is it important?

Soft Censorship hits the media hard. The pressures to influence news coverage through biased, and/or nontransparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments can evoke pervasive self-censorship that restricts reporting while maintaining the appearance of media freedom.

The myriad aspects of official soft censorship are increasingly pervasive and alarmingly effective means of media manipulation and control around the world. They are far less visible and dramatic as the hard censorship that draws the rightful attention of press freedom and other human rights groups. Yet soft censorship can prove even more insidious, because the public that is denied accurate and impartial information is far less likely to be aware and wary of its existence and its impact.

Why do we monitor it?

We believe that skilled investigation can reveal the prevalence and impact of soft censorship, and generate support to combat it.

Through specific research and the Global Monitoring System we aim to understand, identify and suggest means to combat the bases and mechanisms of official soft censorship.

Thematic areas

  • Advertising and influence
  • Paid ‘News’
  • Subsidies
  • Bribery / payments
  • Licenses, imports, audits