Different countries have different behaviours when it comes to censorship of media. Beating them is the goal of every "edgy" TV and film producer and writer. Here's a look at what things tend to "ping" the radar the most, depending on the country.
The U.S.A used to have no censorship of films at all. Then the U.S. Supreme Court in 1918 ruled that states could impose censorship on films in Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230, because motion pictures did not have First Amendment protection. A number of states (and cities) implemented censorship boards; if your film was rejected by the board you could not show it in theatres in the area where the board had jurisdiction. To minimize the effect of these boards and to prevent the United States government from instituting national censorship (a very real possibility given the pressure of Moral Guardians such as the Legion of Decency), in the 1930s the motion picture industry instituted The Hays Code, an industry-based voluntary system of content rues consisting of three General Principles and roughly city specific rules. The strategy worked; the Code itself was more restrictive than any local censorship board.
Despite this, the obvious exigencies of World War II caused the federal government set up an Office of Censorship anyway. In cooperation with the Office of War Information's Bureau of Motion Pictures, the federal government exerted a powerful, although allegedly voluntary, influence over Hollywood until September of 1945, when the offices were dissolved.
The state and city censorship boards began to die off starting in 1952, when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself in the Mutual Film case mentioned above, when it decided in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, that motion pictures do have First Amendment protection. The more or less nail-in-the coffin of censorship boards having power over films occurred in 1965 when the Supreme Court decided in Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51, that a censorship board can't ban a film outright any more. When a censorship board receives a film for review, it must do so promptly, then either issue approval of the film or file suit in a court against the distributor to stop a film from being exhibited. Also, since the censorship board was suing in court, the board now had the burden of proof to argue a film was unsuitable for licensing rather than the distributor having to prove the film was acceptable. The coming of television further rendered the censorship boards irrelevant; a city or state board has no jurisdiction over a motion picture broadcast on a television station because they are federally licensed.
The final nail in the coffin of movie censorship in the US was the election of Jack Valenti as president of the Motion Picture Association of America in 1966. Valenti promised to end the Production Code and replace it with a ratings system intended to tell parents what material was appropriate for their children; by 1968, he accomplished just that. Most jurisdictions dropped their censorship boards, mostly as a way to save money. The City of Dallas, Texas' board more-or-less closed down when the city stopped providing funding for the board to publish the list of films approved each week in the newspaper. In 1980, the State of Maryland became the final state to eliminate its censorship board. The only restrictions on films now are what the producers are willing to accept to get a particular rating from the MPAA.
Broadcast radio and television in the United States is caught in a strange conflict between the First Amendment (which guarantees free speech) and the government's desire to protect its citizens from unwanted material being broadcast into their home. Over-the-air broadcasting is governed by the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to each broadcaster (television, radio, etc.) The Supreme Court has built of a body of case law that grants the FCC the authority to regulate content being broadcast over the licensed spectrum. The Court distinguishes obscene content from indecent; the latter enjoys First Amendment free-speech protections, subject to FCC regulation, while the former is not protected speech at all. (The bar is pretty high to qualify as obscene, effectively limited to hardcore pornography.)
The FCC has historically been more concerned about sex and language than violence. Witness the reaction to Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl and the large fine the FCC gave for a naked backside in NYPD Blue. NYPD Blue also got into some trouble for airing the word "shit", and the FCC often tries to fine for fleeting, unplanned uses of "fuck" at live events (though lately, those have been getting overturned). Violence is only really a concern in video games and children's programming.
The Court ruling that establish the FCC's authority to regulate content limited it to broadcasts made "between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., local time. - when children are more likely to be in the audience." In addition, the FCC's regulation authority stems solely from their role in licensing the broadcast spectrum. Thus, cable or satellite stations, or shows airing in the "safe harbor" period from 10pm to 6am, fall outside of its scope. (See: http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/regulation-obscenity-indecency-and-profanity)
For cable and satellite providers, there is no legal authority regulating the content they air. Instead, each network typically has its own internal standards and practices committee that restricts what is allowed to air. This is done mostly for advertising and public relations purposes: while the FCC has no authority to fine, for example, Comedy Central for airing an uncensored roast, if enough viewers complain they would lose advertisers. Frequently the network S&P boards enforce far stricter regulations than the FCC would if they had such authority; for example, mocking religion or portraying it as the bad guy is not considered indecent, but rather than create a great big fuss with religious groups, most studios don't risk it.
Premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) and pay-per-view channels, which have neither broadcast regulators nor advertisers to deal with, can basically get away with whatever they want, up to and including obscene content such as hardcore pornography (mostly on PPV).
The United Kingdom is more concerned with the violence, particularly scenes of violence, self-harm, and criminal, disgusting, or antisocial behavior that impressionable audience members might see as fun or easy to imitate in real life. The sex gets through a bit more easily (Family-Friendly Stripper, post-watershed, is mostly non-existent in the UK, thus resulting in a number of gratuitous pole dancers in many movies) and the language is much stronger after what is known as the nine o'clock watershed. The continuity announcer usually gives a warning before a film or show that contains swearing, violence, or sex. The British Board of Film Classification does still retain the ability to censor scenes or even ban films outright, but the threshold for doing so is pretty high; sex scenes featuring an actor under the British age of majority are verboten even if they were of consenting age in the film's country of origin, for example, and a particularly awful quasi-documentary called Bumfightsnote was the first film to get a ban in several decades because its very existence went several miles past acceptable standards.
The Soviet Union banned pornography, a restriction now lifted in the modern Russia. Because of this, it became a habit of NATO pilots intercepting Soviet bomber probes to bring copies of Playboy with them... The definition of pornography was unusually stretched, things that could be considered merely erotic in other countries were classified as pornography in the USSR.
More than that, a system of tenets called Socialist Realism was in place. The radar was pinged if the heroes in a movie weren't working-class, the setting wasn't factory, kolkhoz or army, the film didn't contain any respect towards Communism, etc. It was pinged only slightly by light-hearted comedies, historical dramas and science fiction movies that did include references to future perfected communism, but genres like action, erotic and horror were very difficult to smuggle past the radar. Violence was okay if the targets were Nazis, White Guards, American spies and other enemies of the state and if the perpetrator was a serviceman or a Communist guerrilla, but verboten otherwise. Genres like Ostern, war movie, detective, spy movie were a kind of violence ghetto, though in the latter two genres violent scenes were usually only in the climax. Of course, bashing religion was perfectly okay.
All this fell after The Great Politics Mess-Up (actually, it started to crumble during 1980s). Films produced in The New Russia don't have any radar. We mean ANY. Anything goes: splatter-brain Mafiya action, lewd talk shows, sex, product placement of tobacco and vodka, you name it (with one notable exception of Nazi propaganda, which is still forbidden).
In recent censorship developments, the Russian national government banned the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors. The vague definition (especially around the term "among minors") has largely been used to censor media (as well as real life gatherings like Pride parades) that portray same-sex relations as equivalent to opposite-sex ones, with the government rationalizing the censorship as All Gays Are Pedophiles so they are only thinking of the children.
Japan, notably, bans the actual display of naked genitals in a sexual context. It should be noted that this is the reason we have tentacle pornography. The Japanese also have a clever little loophole of putting (very) small black censoring bars just over the clitoris and the tip of the penis, while everything else is on show.
Mexican censors are known for their leniency toward violence and profanity, and for being only a little ticked off at sex and nudity. However, if you take any jabs at Christianity (especially the Catholic Church), be prepared to duck and cover. As soon as a film pops up that questions the purity of the Church or even spends more time talking about a religion other than Christianity, the Moral Guardians cause quite a huge uproar all over the country, going as far as handing out pamphlets against offending films and series, and many a state's Media Watchdogs step in to ban these films.
However, as piracy in Mexico is an entire social institution, this censorship is almost pointless, as anyone with a DVD player can buy a bootlegged DVD from a tianguis - a street market - and watch the film anyway to find out what the fuss is about.
Interesting fact: when Televisa entertainer Adal Ramones found out the word "güey" (meaning "dude" or "fool", depending on context) was not profanity and could be said in public broadcasts, he began throwing it liberally in his weekly show, and although this word was already part of everyday Mexican slang, Adal Ramones is nowadays credited as the one who elevated its status from simple interjection to Verbal Tic.
Malaysian censorship systems are renowned for having two in place - both a ratings system as well as an actual censorship board (FINAS). FINAS film censors get paid for reviewing every piece of imported film/TV material and cutting out every obscenity, overt violence, almost any non-laudatory mention of Islamic 'stuff', sex, and horror - resulting sometimes in a movie that is a third shorter - if not outright banned.
A similar system exists for printed literature; however, the Malaysian government has strongly committed to not extend these censorship systems to the Internet.
Censorship in Canada is inconsistent because censorship is for the most part a provincial matter, not a federal matter, so each province has its own rules. (The exceptions are things like hate speech and child pornography, because owning or distributing them are offenses under the Criminal Code of Canada, which is federal.) In non-criminal situations, though, Canadians these days tend to be less tolerant of censorship than Americans. Adult language was heard on Canadian TV as early as the 80s, and it's unusual for movies to be broadcast censored after 9 PM unless the version sanitized for American TV is the only version available. Nudity likewise is usually not much of an issue after 9 PM.
An example of this more lenient standard in the film industry is the Alberta Film Classification office. Alberta is Canada's most conservative province, but many films rated Rnote in the United States will be dropped to 14Anote in Alberta. The standard used is "detail", so a movie like Paranormal Activity is 14A because while generally terrifying, no detailed violence occurs. There are also mitigating factors; Saving Private Ryan is 14A because the violence occurs in a historical context.
Note that there was a requirement not to cover news about the contents of an famous current criminal trials. Local newspapers wouldn't carry the details because the courts would have issued restrictive orders against reporting on them. Newspapers from the United States would often be confiscated if they're noticed as having feature stories about any big criminal trial. It is unknown if these rules are still in effect.
One difference between Canada and other countries is that news and current events programs are rarely if ever subject to censorship for language, nudity, or violence. The noon news in Montreal once broadcast a live gynecological examination - complete with closeups of the vaginal area and including the insertion of the speculum - in the interest of promoting women's health. The station received over a hundred calls, but only two were complaints: the others were from people congratulating the station for being brave enough to show a medical procedure. News programs also won't hesitate to broadcast incidents where alleged criminals unleash obscenities at police or news crews.
Things have changed in the recent past: it wasn't that many years ago that the RCMP stopped a shipment of books from entering the country simply because they were gay-themed. Nowadays that would be seen as extremely ridiculous.
According to foreign sources, the Israeli censors (if you could call them that) generally show the same leniency toward violence and profanity and mild adverse reaction to at sex and nudity as Mexican censors do, though there's no obliterate-anything-taking-jabs-at-religion rule. Just like in Canada, nothing is aired censored unless it was already watered down for foreign (chiefly US) consumption, but, as there's no watershed on Israeli TV, this applies 24/7, not just from 21:00 to 6:00 the next day.
The Films and Plays Review Council generally slaps the local equivalent of whatever the MPAA says as the rating for every movie, though its statutory power to edit movies or outright ban films has been neutered by a Supreme Court ruling in 1987, and it lost oversight over Plays in 1991.
As a result, nearly all meaningful censorship is concerned with security matters and is handled by the Military Censor, which, following a 1989 Supreme Court ruling (notice a pattern here?), only deals with news reporting, not entrertainment media. Even then, as the Military Censor has no jurisdiction outside Israel, all the news outlets report otherwise censor-worthy items anyway and claim they're "according to foreign sources" without stating what those sources are.
AustraliaAustralia had fairly restrictive censorship right into the 1980's. These days the mainstream media follows the UK: there is more concern over violence than sex. Quite explicit material is broadcast with relatively little interest or comment, particularly non-pornographic material.
New Media, however, is treated quite differently to conventional media. There wasn't a R18+ classification for videogames until 2013 and even then games can struggle to aquire, which mean that games intended for adult audiences suffer significant censorship.
Sadly, Australia's censorship board has been branded as the "strictest in the world" in terms of acceptability to adults. Pornography is also difficult to come by as all states prohibit the sell of Hardcore Porn DVDs that are rated X18+, but therefore sold only in territorial regions such as the A.C.T and the Northern Territory.
Even TV is policed in Australia. Anything rated R18+ on TV will require an edit for MA15+ (which is similar in the US but slightly different when Basic or Premium cable bans all NC-17 movies on TV).
An episode of Peppa Pig has caused some controversy over its Mister Skinnylegs episode. The reason the episode was banned is because it features an arachnid creature (aka the Spider, which is dangerous in Australia).
New ZealandNew Zealandís censorship are more heavily concerned about Child Pornography (aka the Think of the Children! issue). In practice, Television in New Zealand is policed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (NZís equivalent to the FCC) and it is based on Good Taste and Decency (which they say very frequently).
When it comes to films and other media, New Zealand usually classify films that are based on either the Australian or British decisions (occasionally the Australian made decisions is more common in NZ). NZís OFLC is run by the government (similar to the Australian Classification Board in Australia) and its focus on material that may considered injurious to the public good. Material such as Sex, Crime, Cruelty and Horror should be dealt with Extent, Degree or Manner. However, NZ's classification law is enforced by the Department of Internal Affairs (more specifically the Censorship Compliance Unit), NZ Customs and NZ Police. An adult who gives a child or teen a restricted movie, video game or pornographic item will be reliable for a $3,000 fine (roughly US$2,076.54) while Corporates will be given a heavy fine of $10,000 (roughly US$6,921.80).
By NZ law, all films are required to have NZ labels. If classified in Australia or the UK, it will be cross-rated with a NZ equivalent. If Australia doesnít classify the film but it has been classified in the UK, it will be given a NZ equivalent and vice versa. If neither Australia or the UK classify the film, the decision will be referred to the OFLC.
Video Games do not require NZ labels (which only applies to unrestricted G, PG or M rating). This means that Australian Ratings will be used by default if unrestricted. However games with restricted rating do require to have a red NZ classification labels (R13, R15, R16 and R18). Despite being a small but limited market, some Video Games that are censored for Australia can have an impact on NZ. For example in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was released with an R18 certificate despite being censored in Australia with an MA15+ rating (at the time Australia did not have the Adult 18+ rating for video games). However a 21 year old man managed to get the uncensored version intact.
Advertisements are also policed, but by the Advertising Standards Authority (the same name with the UK) and the Commercials Approvals Bureau (to avoid confusion with the Citizens Advice Bureau as the CAB as the abbreviation. But it is also the local body where adverts are approved for screening). In 2007, a Burger King ad featuring scantily clad bikini ladies was deemed "sexually exploitative" by the ASA and was never allowed shown on NZ television. A similar situation in 2013 when Carl Jr's ran into trouble with their racy advert deeming "sexually exploitative". However the burger chain blasted the decision as "puritanical".
Unlike most countries where the watershed is 9pm; NZís watershed time is half an hour early (meaning that the watershed begins 8:30pm while in the US, it is 10pm but it is been referred to as Safe Harbor).
People's Republic Of ChinaThis content has been found to be slanderous of our glorious republic and has been removed for your protection. If not in China we apologise for the inconvenience.
GermanyNo Swastikas (by law), obviously, though depictions of Those Wacky Nazis are usually allowed. Deserves special mention for having Video Games legally be children's toys and therefore having a more strict rating system. Banned media go onto the "Index", having been "indiziert" and may only be sold under the counter (and thus aren't technically banned, as that would be unconstitutional. It can be hard to tell the difference though). Ratings go in a series of steps from "Age 0 and up", over ages 6+, 12+, 16+ and 18+ (video games not submitted for rating, instead of getting banned, are 'merely' immediately slapped with the 18+ logo), each with a different brightly-colored and (as of 2008ish) super-sized logo, because parents are morons. The two main Bureaus for censorship are the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, FSK (Voluntary Self-Control of the Movie Industry) and the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, USK (Entertainmentsoftware Self-control).
NICAM (the Dutch institute for classification of audiovisual media) is the the big dog when it comes to classification, they cover: movies, tv-shows, games (they do this for most of the EU under the PEGI banner) and music videos (if aired on the TV). The ratings haven't really changed the past few years, but the strict enforcement of art.240a Wv S ("you shall give minors no access to harmful material") is back after years of neglect by the Department of Justice. The system classifies media according to the content with the most "harmful" visual depictions (with the exception of (obviously): curses/swears), which had lead to some mistakes when the harmful content was not visual in nature (for instance: anklaget is rated for all ages). The NICAM has future plans to classify mobile and internet content, which will be an entirely different kettle of fish.
For a long time, Ireland had some of the most notoriously strict censorship in Europe due to the dominance of the Catholic Church. Famously, priests would go through foreign magazines and cut out any lingerie ads which showed women modelling the underwear in question.
Films were rated an edited by the Irish Film Censor's Office (IFCO); similar bodies were in place to approve books. IFCO routinely ordered the removal of scenes of people kissing and any criticism of the Catholic Church.
Things changed in the late 80s and early 90s, and there is much more freedom today. No films are banned nowadays, and while IFCO is still around, the C now stands for classification, and they just assign age ratings. For the most part, IFCO and other watchdogs are similar to the UK authorities, being more concerned with violence than sex or cursing. In fact, while fuck is right out, popular Irish-language Soap Opera Ros na Rúngets away with shit before watershed (though amusingly, despite most of the swearing being in English anyway, the subtitles do tend to bowdlerise it).
Most DVDs sold in Ireland are actually the excess stock left over from what companies shift to the UK, meaning that DVDs sold in Ireland routinely bear a rating from both IFCO and the British Board of Film Classification. These are mostly the same, but IFCO tends to be slightly stricter, which occasionally results in a movie rated 15 in Britain getting an 18 rating right next to it in Ireland.
Video games are not rated by IFCO; instead, Ireland submits to PEGI classification.
From the late sixties to the early 90's, censorship was very strict in South Korea due to political turmoil and a mixture of Confucian, Shamanistic, Buddhist, and Christian values. In the past 20+ years, censors have relaxed somewhat.
South Korean network television not only censors profanity, nudity, and violence, but also smoking. People can hold lit cigarettes but as soon as they bring it up to their lips, it is blurred out. Knives are also blurred out, including simply showing knives on cooking shows. Their cable television is more lenient, much like the US, except that genitals and sometimes even buttocks are still blurred out (naked breasts and softcore sex is still on display). Many cable networks will also censor any damage done to the head or showing close ups of cuts being made but not cuts that are already open. For instance, when Dexter is broadcast on cable, the cheek cutting scenes are edited once the scalpel touches the cheek but the open cut itself is left uncensored once the scalpel is removed. There is a call from Moral Guardians to have Daytime TV censored for allowing scenes of divorce and adultary but no actions have been made.
Movies might also be censored for genitalia, depending on visibility and the length of the shot. You can expect a quick glimpse in a dark scene but if it's a more prolonged shot or the genitals are clearly visible, expect it to be blurred out. Otherwise, they seem to follow the guidelines of any other countries. Bootleg porn and movies are quite common for purchase, completely uncensored. Piracy laws are very relaxed. Also, some art house theatres get away with it.
Oddly enough, despite their strict censorship practices against smoking, alcohol commercials are freely displayed and feature popular young actors and pop stars. These are not simple beer commercials but are commercials for traditional spirits such as soju.