By Tench Phillips, Naro Cinema
I grew up watching the Nightly News with Walter Cronkite, oftentimes as my family was sitting down around the kitchen table and eating dinner. I never questioned the accuracy or truthfulness of the reporting that Uncle Walter brought into our home each night – or whether there might be another valid point of view in the world besides that of American Empire. The establishment media has always been our lens for learning about the world around us. It has grown exponentially since the sixties, but never has this lens been more narrow, sensational, manipulative, and jingoistic, than it is today.
Most Americans still receive their news from traditional sources delivered through television, radio, and newspapers. These news outlets have become less trustworthy during the past decades of deregulation which allowed for aggressive media consolidation. Today there are just six corporations — General Electric, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS — that control over 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read in the U.S.
These corporate behemoths have all the resources at their disposal to employ legends of reporters and to fund investigative journalism so as to protect the public interest. But this giant media system wasn’t constructed for that purpose. Its function is to protect a wide range of corporate interests – and to make a lot of money. There are now more PR agents than journalists writing the news. Billions of dollars are spent to get certain messages into the mainstream and to keep essential stories from getting out.
To make matters worse, newspaper newsrooms across the country have been gradually hallowed out as ad revenue has fallen off. The old business model isn’t working anymore for newspapers. Their remaining assets are often up for sale to the highest corporate bidder.
In the past, public media has managed to exist outside the for-profit system. But with the drastic reduction of their funding at the state and federal level over the years, NPR and PBS have had to adapt many of their productions to receive necessary corporate funding. As a result much of public media has become more like corporate media in their news coverage. Listeners must endure the establishment views of Wall Street and corporatist ideology, along with endless reports of terrorist attacks and Iranian fear mongering. When the experts are called upon to comment, they too often speak for conservative beltway think-tanks, or for the Pentagon and State Department. An intelligent and informed voice for peace and nonviolence is seldom heard.
The free press, the watchdog that was empowered by the First Amendment has been neutered and turned into a lapdog that is used and abused by those in power. It’s not surprising that the U.S. dropped sharply to 49th position in last year’s rankings of each country’s press freedom compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders.
But Americans aren’t stupid, and many aren’t buying the same media narrative about the world anymore. In a recent poll, 60 percent of the public say they no longer trust the media. It’s made evident by the decreasing number of younger viewers and readers who consume their news from mainstream media.
Fortunately we have an emerging ‘networked 4th estate’. The worldwide web has allowed for numerous alternative news outlets and independent journalists from Democracy Now, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), TruthOut, TruthDig, Alternet, The Anti-Media, and The Intercept to name only a few. In addition, independent filmmakers are producing groundbreaking documentaries that premiere in movie theaters and on cable channels. The Naro Cinema premieres many of these films in our ‘New Non-Fiction Film’ series on Wednesday nights.
The work of Project Censored has grown in importance over the decades. Each year the Project researches, vets, and compiles the twenty-five most important censored news stories and offers scholarly analysis and critiques. The project was started in 1976 at Sonoma State University as a media research program with a focus on student development of media literacy and of critical thinking skills as applied to the news media. The project defines censorship “as the suppression of information by any method – including bias, omission, underreporting, or self-censorship – which prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in the world. “
Below are this year’s top ten stories from Project Censored ranked in importance in descending order. In addition, I’ve selected a few other stories from the remaining 25 Censored Stories. To read the full list visit the website at http://www.projectcensored.org.
The Top Censored News Stories of Last Year
- Half of global wealth owned by the top 1 percent. Oxfam International, which has been working for decades to fight global poverty, released a January 2015 report showing that, if current trends continue, the wealthiest 1 percent will soon control more wealth than everyone else in the world put together. As stated by Project Censored “The report provided evidence that extreme inequality is not inevitable, but is, in fact, the result of political choices and economic policies established and maintained by the power elite.” The Oxfam report was either ignored or buried by broadcast media.
- Oil industry illegally dumps toxic fracking wastewater. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that oil companies have been injecting fracking wastewater into the California aquifer and poisoning precious drinking water. The state has not been closely regulating oil companies and the California legislators are paid off to approve more drilling. The corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry goes to the the very top of the EPA which continues to allow for lax regulation policies. The same lobbying forces kept the California-based media from mentioning the Center’s report for months.
- The victims of U.S. drone strikes in The Middle East are overwhelmingly non-militants. The New York Times, Washington Post, and most major media chose to ignore four former Air Force drone-war operators who recently went public with an open letter to President Obama. These brave young men have challenged the official White House/Pentagon/CIA narrative that civilians are rarely killed by drones, and that drones make Americans safer and are helping defeat terrorists. Appearing in the upcoming documentary Drone, they affirm that the U.S. drone war creates blowback and plays right into the hands of ISIS.
- Popular resistance to corporate buying of water rights. Around the world people are rising up against multinational companies that buy up municipal water works and then raise rates to citizens. The story has received little coverage; it goes counter to the prevailing narrative espousing the benefits of government outsourcing and privatization
- Fukushima nuclear disaster deepens. More than four years after the disastrous nuclear reactor meltdown, huge quantities of radioactive materials including plutonium 239 are being released into the Pacific. But the corporate press has apparently moved on and the ongoing reports out of Japan are no longer considered newsworthy.
- Methane and arctic warming’s global impact. We have all heard that arctic sea ice is rapidly retreating. But what about the release of methane that has been trapped in the ice for millennium. A study in ‘Nature’ magazine states that a fifty-gigaton burp of methane is “highly possible at any time” and could lead to devastating temperature increases of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius in only a decade or two. But the methane bubble has received scant attention from the media. The corporate press is more interested in U.S. saber rattling against Russia in the race by nations to lay claim to drilling rights on the Arctic seafloor.
- Fear of government spying is chilling writers’ freedom of expression. More journalists and their sources have been prosecuted under The Espionage Act by the Obama administration than all previous presidents combined since its passage in 1917. This ‘chilling effect’ on investigative journalism by the government has caused our country’s ranking to plummet in the last compilation of press freedom throughout the world.
- Who dies at the hands of U.S. police – and how often. It is not known how many people that police kill in the U.S. each year, since there is no federal agency that accurately keeps track of such information. In recent months, there has been an outpouring of opposition to the rampant police murder of minorities in the United States. This growing people’s movement has received almost daily coverage by the mainstream media, although much of it is biased against the movement and favors authority.
- Millions of poverty stricken Americans get less media coverage than a few billionaires. In a report issued by the media watchdog FAIR, the stories of 50 million Americans living in poverty received only 25% of the coverage that was given by broadcast news to Warren Buffet and his super-rich friends.
- Costa Rica setting the standard on renewable energy. Who knew? While Costa Rica generates 90 percent of its energy without burning any fossil fuels, Virginians have been told for years by Dominion Power that renewable energy production just costs too much. The Virginia Pilot editorial staff has been a voice of reason, pushing back against Dominion and state legislature policies.
- Big Sugar borrowing the same tactics that were used by Big Tobacco. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and the American Beverage Association have spent millions to lobby Congress against the levying of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The result of their mega-marketing has been the epidemic rise of Diabetes II and rampant tooth decay among children worldwide.
- The Pentagon and NATO encircle Russia and China. In the service of corporate capital and with vested interests in the regions’ natural resources, the Western Powers have toppled elected governments and established dozens of military bases in bordering countries. The Ukrainian proxy civil war was escalated by the C.I.A. with full support from the establishment press. Both corporate and public media have justified a new cold war through their persistent rhetorical attacks against Putin and Russia.
- Pesticide manufacturer’s spend millions in response to bee colony die-off. But unfortunately the money spent by Monsanto, Bayer, and other multi-nationals has gone to buy off Congress and to block the EPA from banning the use of neonicotinoids which are toxic to bees and other beneficial insects. These are the same toxins that have been banned for years throughout Europe.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
FirstLook Film Forum The Winter Season of this popular subscription-based series has just commenced. These Sunday morning socials offer brunch and a preview showing of an acclaimed movie before it opens locally.
In ancient times humans looked to the flight and songs of birds to protect the future. Su Rynard’s new documentary explores our deep-seated connection to birds and warns that the uncertain fate of songbirds might mirror our own. Moving from the northern reaches of the Boreal Forest to the base of Mount Ararat in Turkey to the streets of New York, the film brings us face-to-face with a remarkable variety of human-made perils that have devastated thrushes, warblers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and many other airborne music-makers. The Messenger mixes its elegiac message with new data about the mass depletion of songbirds on multiple continents. Presented with Sierra Club and Wildlife Response. Showing Wed, Feb 3.
In the wars being fought today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria – the U.S. government and the military-industrial complex have developed war strategies that are similar to video games. And young male gamers who are proficient in those games have become prized recruits. Brandon Bryant, a former Air Force drone pilot who now suffers from post-traumatic stress states that “We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping Toms. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives. It was just point. And click.“ In this movie, Bryant and a few brave young pilots go public in their opposition to drone killings. Our government has already begun to retaliate against these whistleblowers by freezing their banking accounts. Date to be announced.