Dr. Larry Burriss Commentary: CBS & China Censoring “The Good Fight”

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CBS & China Censorship
05/13/2019

For years American companies have been telling us they do business with the repressive regime of Communist China in order to help that country move towards democracy. Well, we have seen how unsuccessful those efforts have been.
But last week there was an interesting twist on the Chinese censorship strategy: CBS, an American company, censored an American program because network officials said it might offend the Chinese government.

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

The program in question was a segment of “The Good Fight,” which runs on the CBS streaming channel. Curiously, the censored segment was itself about censorship in China.

 

The scene originally showed an argument between lawyers and their clients, but for some eight seconds all that was visible was a black screen and the words “CBS has censored this content.”
The theme of the entire program was American companies that cave in to Chinese policies in order to maintain a business presence in the repressive country.
Apparently, the show’s producers and distributors were approached by CBS some two weeks ago and told to delete the offending portion.
Actually, the CBS concern about offensive programming seems highly selective. After all, I haven’t seen much concern about offending various religious or other conservative groups.
For years CBS was known as the “Tiffany Network,” and its news division was known for its hard-hitting coverage of controversial topics such as McCarthyism, hunger in America, civil rights and Pentagon spending on public relations activities.
As you might expect, some people are saying entertainment, such as “The Good Fight,” shouldn’t’ be dealing in controversy anyway; commentary should be left to news and opinion programs.
So it’s interesting that it was 50 years ago, 1969, and almost to the day this year, that CBS cancelled the popular “Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour,” due to an long-running dispute over content the network said was too controversial and might offend some viewers.
But news or entertainment isn’t the issue. The very real concern is that an American company surrendered to demands from a totalitarian government. So much for support of democratic ideals.
I’m Larry Burriss.

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