Article: The Top Censored News Items of 2007

Slashdot, a site I visit every once in a while for media/technology news (their motto is “news for nerds, stuff that matters”) had a summary of a very interesting (if disturbing) article, by an outfit named Project Censored (from their website: “Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country’s major national news media”).

Indeed, the Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007 contains some pretty disturbing stuff. Like:

#2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran


#11 Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed

Again, though it may be easy, superficially, to think this is yet another left-wing group with a wishlist, it isn’t. These are well-researched, authoritative items of interest that are cross-confirmed by third-party contributors. That our media (and yes, there is an Americentric focus to the list – Project Censored is, after all, an American outfit) pays scant attention to any of these and yet devotes slightly less time to Anna Nicole Smith’s death than on the day of 9/11 is a travesty.

Since we’re on the topic of journalism, ethics, and self-censorship, allow me to talk to you about bias. There’s been a lot of mud thrown since just before 9/11 (and obviously since) about a “liberal media bias” in the news. In return, and certainly since 9/11, there have been just as many accusations about “right-wing media bias” also. The problem is that neither accusation is particularly correct – or rather, neither of these stances tackles the larger issue: money.

Television news requires advertisers to produce it. The producers of television news require viewers in order to sell advertising time. Ostensibly, there is no difference between news programming and sitcoms. They need to keep viewers watching in order for the advertisers who sponsor/pay-for the program to feel as if their money is well spent. Print news is the same (as are their internet-based spin-offs): advertisers are the lifeblood of news. It has been this way for over a hundred years.

So, getting back to the “liberal media” vs. “right-wing media” infighting, it’s not a question of who is truly pushing a “liberal agenda” or what show is promoting an unquestionable “right-wing” viewpoint. It’s about making money, getting viewers, and above all, keeping advertisers happy.

This is one of the not-so-good things about capitalism. When you surrender journalism to “the market”, the market wins every time. Thus, Anna Nicole Smith’s death is the rational choice for keeping viewers entranced and advertisers happy over, let’s say, the destruction of the world’s fish stocks. Complexity – and if there’s anything you can count on in life, it’s complexity – does not sell, or so “the market” dictates.

There are always exceptions – PBS in the US and CBC in Canada: however, both have been corrupted by government intrusion, if not partially hobbled. Funding for public broadcasting is constantly being trimmed and political interference, particularly in PBS’ case, has started to infect the roots.

I write all this not to say “don’t read newspapers, don’t watch Newsworld @ 11” but rather so that people understand that, yes, it’s possible for a newspaper or broadcast to spend pages of print and minutes of talking without actually focusing on stories that are truly substantial.

My advice: Keep digging. Don’t get sidetracked by trifling “left” vs. “right” debates when the freedom of news itself is the issue.


3 Replies to “Article: The Top Censored News Items of 2007”

  1. Labels are used to stigmatize public broadcasting’s complexity with simple and pejorative caricatures for lazy minds.

    When George Romney was Governor of Michigan, he held a news conference and said “I’m as conservative as the Constitution, as liberal as Lincoln and as progressive as Theodore Roosevelt. Critical thinkers never accept labels as a way to define a person and should not be accepted as definitions for the concepts within public television’s programs. Public Radio and TV are about substantive solutions to real issues of policy and of conscience, and the substance is more important than the label.

    People who choose to label do an injustice to any idea or person, although they achieve the benefit of stigmatizing the complex for the convenience of lazy thinkers. The use of labeling contributes to the superficiality of understanding a person, institution, issue or ideology by pandering to the simplistic.

    A thinking person views issues from all perspectives and enjoys the challenge of ideas and people with thoughts that vary from their own. Mostly, they are attracted by new people with new ideas. New ways of thinking give them hope that people can break out of the patterns of past errors, deliberate or honest.

    Commerce and institutions, media or otherwise, are fraught with the corporate and politically powerful attempting to control access to information and to eliminate critical thinking. Talk and written word media entertainers lull emotional non-thinkers with labels and name-calling, the equivalent to labeling. They try to hide the fact that they themselves lack the knowledge base or competence to have a discussion of issues based on facts and perspective within a broad context. There is nothing to be gained by allowing your space to be invaded by those folks who already consume too much precious time with their vacuous labels.

    Think about it:
    When public broadcasting airs ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, public broadcasting is playing it safe and appealing to a mass audience.
    When public broadcasting airs EGG: THE ARTS SHOW, public broadcasting is going out on a limb with this obscure artsy stuff for eggheads.
    When public broadcasting plays SCHOOL: THE STORY OF AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION, public broadcasting is selling out to the teachers’ unions.
    When public broadcasting airs NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, public broadcasting sells out to corporate interests.
    When public broadcasting airs WWII: BATTLEFORCE, public broadcasting caters to old white males.
    When public broadcasting airs P.O.V., public broadcasting caters to marginalized voices who aren’t in our market.
    When public broadcasting airs METROPOLITAN OPERA, public broadcasting is elitist.
    When public broadcasting airs RED GREEN, public broadcasting is stooping to guy comedy.
    When public broadcasting airs [insert kids show title here], public broadcasting is letting their producers get rich on merchandising.
    When public broadcasting airs [insert kids show title here], it’s all part of a merchandising ploy to line our pockets. {See recent GAO report for factual data.]
    When public broadcasting airs NEWSHOUR, public broadcasting is boring.
    When public broadcasting airs FRONTLINE on “American Porn,” public broadcasting is being sensational.
    When public broadcasting airs NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, public broadcasting is liberal.
    When public broadcasting airs AMAZING GRACE, public broadcasting is liberal because … dammit, Bill Moyers is in it!
    When public broadcasting airs MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, public broadcasting is conservative.
    When public broadcasting airs AFRICANS IN AMERICA, public broadcasting is caving in to a minority lobby.
    When public broadcasting airs ADVENTURES FROM THE BOOK OF VIRTUES, public broadcasting is caving in to the family values lobby.
    When public broadcasting airs CHARLIE ROSE on Tuesday, public broadcasting caters to academicians whose viewpoint nobody cares about.
    When public broadcasting airs CHARLIE ROSE on Public Wednesday, public broadcasting caters to Hollywood stars who get far too much publicity.
    When public broadcasting airs TRACKS AHEAD, GREAT LAKES GARDENER, OUTDOOR WISCONSIN, AND ORQUESTA ARAGON, public broadcasting is just plan smart.
    And so it goes. There is virtually no show that can’t have a spin put on it to yield ample criticism and more lame evidence of why public broadcasting is (affix label here).

    Put a liberal and a conservative in the same room and let them figure out how public television can be so liberal and conservative at the same time. Public broadcasting is like a thermos. Public broadcasting keeps hot beverages hot, and cold beverages cold. But… how does public broadcasting know the difference?

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars…

  2. Very well put.
    Taking things a little further, when viewed in the [correct] light, the product of media is not “the news”, or a “sitcom” or the “Antiques Roadshow”, but rather “audiences”…specifically, audiences of consumers. That is the product, and the consumer of that product is advertisers. The sandbox debates within the media of television or print news take on much less relevance when looked at within the boundaries of this wider playground…At this vantage you need to look at what is happening in the whole field, and I find I come to different conclusions when looking at things from here.

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