excerpted from the article
Dung on All Their Houses
by Danny Schechter
Toward Freedom magazine, December / January 2000
Group Think in the "News Army"
In the media business, the mechanisms of censorship are now
solidly built into the editorial and program selection process
where decisions are made on what gets covered and how, what news
gets on the media, and what's routinely spiked. Programming formats,
which are increasingly the same across the spectrum of seeming
broadcast choice, tend to insure a conformity and often seamless
one-note editorial flow.
Each day, in thousands of newspaper offices and TV newsrooms,
editors and producers gather to make picks from a menu of story
possibilities, assessing pitches from reporters in the field and
news running on the wire. It is there that they decide what to
lead with, and what to downplay. Increasingly, despite the plethora
of news sources and the size of the "news army," there
is a sameness of sources and angles.
Like the word processors found on every desk, there is an
idea processor at work, narrowing down what future generations
will come to know as the first draft of history. More and more,
those stories revolve around some high profile "giga-event"-the
O.J. Case, the Death of a Princess, Sex Scandal in the White House,
a natural disaster, and so on. Like blackbirds in flight, packs
of reporters darken the sky, moving in swarms at the same speed
and in predictable trajectory. When one lands, they all land.
When one leaves, they all leave.
At first look, it seems as if all of this happens naturally,
as if it's ordained by some higher logic or the way journalists
are supposed to operate. The idea that there is censorship at
work here is all too often considered way offbase. But today,
in the media at least, programming is a verb as well as a noun.
The programmers and channel controllers from all the stations
are part of the same well-paid elite, steeped in the same values,
committed to the mission of maximizing audience share and profits.
They are chosen for their ability to play the game and not challenge
the audience with too many controversial ideas or critical perspectives.
It's no surprise that they circulate easily within the commanding
heights of media power, moving from company to company and job
Personally, they seem more concerned with negotiating their
own exit strategies and stock options than exercising power to
fundamentally improve the range or quality of viewing options.
A kind of group think corporate consensus, steeped in market logic
and deeply inbred by an un-brave news culture, breeds conscience-free
conformity and self-censorship. That's partly why we have so many
safe, middle of the road choices on the air, and why views considered
unsafe are marginalized.
Unlike dictators who jail dissidents, they simply ignore them.
The mantra that guides their rejection letters is "Not for
FROM MAINSTREAM TO MUDSTREAM
Project Censored, a group that reports on the new censorship,
warns that journalism as we have known it is sinking ever deeper
in a sludge of sleaze, slime, and sensationalism-news that doesn't
belong in the news. The consequence: readers, watchers, and citizens
are drowning in both trivialization and information overload.
Independent producers with something to say have fewer and fewer
outlets through which to say it. Not surprisingly, the findings
of Project Censored itself are, in effect, censored -rarely reported
in the mainstream media.
This makes frightening sense in a globalized economy where
consumerism is more desired than active citizenship, where power
is increasingly concentrated and the public is increasingly unwelcome
in a public discourse defined by the powerful. If your goal is
to numb people and drive them away from active participation,
then TV as "weapon of mass distraction" and wall to
wall entertainment makes sense. Shut up and shop is the now the
message, one that makes sense to advertiser dominated media outlets...
As the mainstream becomes a mudstream, we have to try to scratch
a bit deeper to understand why "junk food news," stories,
and spectacles are grossly over reported, sensationalized, and
hyped out of proportion to their significance. The problem is
institutional. As Peter Phillips, who directs Project Censored,
explains, "The structure of media organizations themselves
are creating latent forms of censorship that are just as potentially
damaging as intentional censorship."
The type of journalism that this leads to is all too clear.
All you have to do is flip the dial and look at the pattern. The
same headlines, the familiar anchors, the packaged formats with
their look-alike graphics and stirring music. The stories revolve
around the very important people at the top, promoting celebrities
that the entertainment industries have created and marketed. The
daily fluctuations of the business behemoths are reported, the
lives of ordinary people for most part aren't. There is an abundance
of business channels, including BBC World, which recently announced
an intention to shift to more business news. They measure the
winners and losers, but no labor channels show the human costs.
In an era when content is supposedly king, the connections
that would help us make sense of what's happening are missing
-by design. Information is everywhere; interpretation is absent.
And covered least of all-the media itself, which has gone
though structural shifts, merging into cartel-sized monopolies
which treat information as a subsidiary of entertainment-oriented
mega-businesses. Substance is a casualty of the synergies that
these arrangements produce ... endless tabloidization and suffocating
This is why I and other colleagues worldwide have created
"The Media Channel" (www.mediachannel.org), a global
internet supersite as part of England's OneWorldOnline (www.oneworld.org)
to continue to report, discuss, and encourage action against the
new censors and the threat they represent to media freedom. Your
involvement is welcome.
and Media Control