The Constitution of the United States
guarantees the right of free speech
and freedom of the press
. This would seem to forbid censorship
, but there are ways around this. The government may be the only organization with certain information, by not releasing it they are acting as censors. Other organizations use pressure to censor books, music, and movies -- by limiting their distribution
through the use of boycott
s or frivolous lawsuits
. Corporations may withhold advertising
from radio or television networks that publish derogatory information about corporate malfeasance
. Governments and corporations may threaten to withhold funding from organizations
that disseminate such information.
Some would say that the voluntary movie rating system is de facto censorship -- or the labeling of music and websites. More insidious are the many news items that simply receive little or no coverage. Project Censored has documented many of these cases over the years.
In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, it is interesting to look at censorship in the U.S.A. At the urging of the government, the US news media has decided that statements from the Taliban are not newsworthy; that they are mostly rhetoric and not news. Since September 11th, using that same standard for U.S. politicians, how many speeches by Washington politicos - including the President -- would qualify as newsworthy? The rest of the world can see Al-Jazeera broadcasts, but US citizens (or US citizens without satellite dishes) should not be exposed to such rhetoric.
At the same time, virtually anything that might lead Americans to question the government, and especially the President, is not being reported. The major news organizations had combined to do a complete recount of the ballots in Florida. The results have been completed, but publication and analysis of the results has been shelved, perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever. Since September 11th, the American public apparently has lost the right to know.
Two days after the attacks a second debris field, 6 miles away from the main crash site, was discovered from United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. This indicates that something happened aboard or to that plane before it nosedived. Something. Maybe the passengers managed to initiate an explosive decompression. Maybe the terrorists exploded a bomb. Perhaps a violent aerial maneuver from a struggle in the cockpit caused part of the plane to break off. Perhaps the government shot it down. The only thing we know is that the story has received virtually zero coverage since that day. This is how you feed rumor mills and conspiracy theories.
And while the American news media and politicians from both sides of the aisle were applauding President Bush's nationally televised speech to congress in which he created the Office of Homeland Security, there were no stories informing Americans that this same idea had been rejected by the President just months before.
These are just the stories that I know the news media isn't covering. I am sure there are others - because that's the point of censorship - to prevent people from knowing. If you don't know, how can you complain, protest, or question? In effect, our government and the national news media is telling the American people, you can't handle the truth.
Wednesday, October 17, 2001 at 19:54:54
In the 45 minutes since I posted this:
I have been reminded of Clear Channel Communication issuing a "don't play" list of 150 songs - including John Lennon's peace anthem Imagine - and their firing of DJ Davey D.
And that on September 14th, the ISP for the music group Rage Against the Machine removed the bulletin board from their website when the Secret Service complained about "inflamatory" remarks posted by fans.
After broadcasting for a year on a Santa Cruz AM station, left-of-center talk show host Peter Werbe had his program suddenly yanked from KOMY-AM. The many listeners who called the KOMY management were told that the show had no sponsors and few listeners. The station never sought ads for the program, but the management said it aired Peter's program to balance its bevy of right-wing shows.
Faced with growing complaints from the Santa Cruz audience, on Oct. 6, the KOMY station owner took to the airwaves and denounced the show and its host, and "apologized" to the people of Santa Cruz for having him on "his" airwaves.
KOMY owner's mother, Kay Zwerling, similarly denounced the show and Peter during an on-air editorial. In explaining why the station had dropped the program. She specifically mentioned its left of center content, Peter's criticism of the Bush administration, and his questions about the attacks on Afghanistan.
The story of Daniel Pearl is another instructive example of de facto censorship. Pearl held Israeli citizenship, but the U.S. government asked the news media not to reveal this fact. Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, finally released this information on February 23rd - weeks after Pearl was kidnapped.