The Difference Between “Censorship” and “Standards”

Censorship is bad.

Let’s just get that out of the way right up front so that there isn’t any confusion about our position on this matter.  In fact, let’s say it again: Censorship is bad.

Freedom of speech is an amazing thing – the fact that you can talk about anything you want, any time you want (well, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater… but more on that in a moment) is something that we tend to take for granted these days.

However… and here’s where the problem comes in: “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean “freedom from repercussions of what you say”…

We’re pretty laid back when it comes to the kind of content shows can get in to here on Podcast Detroit.  In fact, the only thing we’ve banned outright is hate speech – we can’t abide by discrimination or vitriol against a set of people… for whatever reason.  It’s just not something we want to be affiliated with in any way, shape, or form.  And so there have been a few times over the years where we’ve had a chat with shows that were going a little too far, and even one instance where we didn’t let a show start using our studios because of the kind of content they wanted to promote.

That being said, we still have over a hundred shows recording in our studios with topics including politics on both sides of the aisle, dating, relationships, geek stuff, sports… and we’re also pleased and proud of the fact that the majority of our shows are hosted by women and people of color – we’re thrilled that we’re helping people find their voice and giving them a platform.  The one show we refused even understood after we put it in simple terms for them – how would they feel if we let that vast majority of shows using our studios disparage them in the same manner that they were planning to talk?  The conversation at least ended with understanding and a handshake, and we parted amicably.

But…we’ve also had a few sticky situations along the way.  Much like not being able to yell “fire” in a crowded theater because it might incite chaos resulting in harm… there are also things you need to keep in mind when creating your podcast.  There are two such situations that come to mind immediately, because they resulted in discussions of “censorship” when that simply isn’t the case:

  • Your content can impact your ability to monetize.  From time to time, we have advertisers that approach us and want to do a full buy of ad spots across the entire network.  Recently, we had to tell two shows that they weren’t eligible to participate, because the advertiser specifically required them being excluded due to, in the advertiser’s words, “their excessive use of profanity”.  Both shows cried foul, and their immediate reaction was “that’s censorship”.  We had to have the same conversation with them both – no, it very much was not “censorship”, because nobody was telling them that they couldn’t swear as much as they wanted to during their respective shows… but nobody owes anyone anything, and they simply didn’t meet the advertiser’s standards.
  • Your content can impact your distribution abilities. We all know (or should) about the “explicit” tag for podcasts.  It denotes strong language, mature content, etc., is contained within the podcast and shouldn’t be listened to unless you’re of age and know what’s coming.  But… there’s a step further that some people don’t consider or even realize – the title and description of your show itself might well impact whether or not your show even gets out into the wild for people to be able to find.  As much as we may personally love or hate iTunes, they’re still a major player in the game, and they recently rejected a couple shows for which we had submitted RSS feeds to them for a very clear and simple reason: “contains explicit language in titles, subtitles, or descriptions“.  Again… the shows in question cried “censorship”… and again, we had to have a chat similar to the earlier one – nobody is saying that you can’t name your show whatever you want or describe your show however you want… but iTunes (and the other platforms) also have the right to refuse to carry things that don’t meet their standards for distribution.  A publisher of children’s books refusing to run and distribute a horror book you wrote isn’t censorship… it goes against their guidelines and business model.  Being required to do a “family friendly” set as a stand up comedian isn’t censorship… those are just the parameters of the gig.

Just a few things to keep in mind.  We know that everyone loves the freedom and flexibility of the podcasting format, and the lack of oversight by the FCC has led to many terrestrial radio / tv personalities to hop on the bandwagon, too.  But… that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any guidelines out there you should be aware of, or decisions being made that can impact you and your show.