Media Censorship and a Free Press in America
by Peter Phillips, Director, Project Censored
Images of the zealous governmental censor imply that censorship
is an intentional act. However, the restructuring of media in
the United States is creating latent forms of censorship that
are just as potentially damaging as overt censorship.
Media corporations have been undergoing a massive merging
and buy-out process that is realigning our sources of information
in America. Conglomeration changes traditional media corporate
cultures. Values such as freedom of information and belief in
the responsibility of keeping the public informed are adjusted
to reflect policies created by bottom-line oriented CEOs.
Media owners and managers are motivated to please advertisers
and upper middle class readers and viewers. Journalists and editors
are not immune from management influence. Journalists want to
see their stories approved for print or broadcast, and editors
come to know the limits of their freedom to diverge from the bottom
line view of owners and managers. The results are an expansion
of entertainment news, infomercials, and synergistic news- all
aimed at increased profit taking. For example in 1997, the new
CEO of the Los Angeles Times found it necessary to assign a business
manager to each section of the newspaper in order to insure that
a proper profit-oriented product was developed and to help maintain
a corporate climate that reflected the management desires of the
board of directors.
The eleven largest or most influential media corporations
in the United States are General Electric Company (NBC), Viacom
Inc. (cable), The Walt Disney Company (ABC), Time Warner Inc.(CNN),
Westinghouse Electric Corporation (CBS), The News Corporation
Ltd. (Fox), Gannett Co. Inc., Knight-Ridder Inc., New York Times
Co., Washington Post Co., and the Times Mirror Co. These eleven
major broadcast and print media corporations now represent a major
portion of the news information systems in the United states.
For many people their entire source of news and information comes
from these eleven corporations.
Collectively, these eleven major media corporations had 155
directors in 1996. These 155 directors, a group small enough to
fit in a medium-size university classroom, also hold 144 directorships
on the boards of Fortune 1,000 corporations in the United States.
They are the media elite of the world. While they may not agree
on abortion and other domestic issues, they do represent the collective
vested interests of a significant portion of corporate America
and share a common commitment to free market capitalism, economic
growth, internationally protected copyrights, and a government
dedicated to protecting their interests.
The eleven media organizations have interlocking directorships
with each other through 36 other Fortune 1,000 corporations creating
a solid network of overlapping interests and affiliations. All
eleven media corporations have direct links with at least two
of the other top media organizations. General Electric, owner
of NBC, has the highest rate of shared affiliations with 17 direct
corporate links to nine of 10 other media corporations.
Given this interlocked media network, it is more than safe
to say that major media in the United States effectively represent
the interests of corporate America, and that the media elite are
the watchdogs of acceptable ideological messages, the parameters
of news and information content, and the general use of media
Do the media elite directly censor the news? Without being
privy to insider conversations, it is difficult to prove direct
censorship by management of particular stories in the news. But
an organizational tendency is to comply with the general corporate
culture, and career-minded journalists and editors sharing this
common corporate culture will create what direct censorship cannot:
a general compliance with the attitudes, wishes, and expectations
of the media elite and in turn corporate America.
Keeping democracy safe in America requires an informed electorate
and a strong watchdog press. But major media today are tending
to favor news stories on sex scandals, celebrity events, and crime,
leaving less or little room for analytical news on important social
issues. If privately owned commercial media will not meet the
task of keeping democracy safe, then it is time for a strong public
supported national news system.
Control and Propaganda