It goes without saying that in the 1998 media world of all-Monica, all-the-time, many important news stories were destined to get short shrift or to be entirely ignored. The corporate media, especially the broadcast media, gave us primarily infotainment and celebrity news, pushing more complex stories to the back pages or off the air. At the same time, public affairs television programming and international news coverage have become less and less visible.
Project Censoreds annual list of the "Top 10 Censored Stories" for 1998 reads like a review of "The Dangerous Things That Were Happening While You Fixated on the Presidents Sex Life ... ." For 23 years, Project Censored a Sonoma State University (Calif.) media watch group has shone a spotlight on the important news that didnt make the news. This years Top 10, selected by a distinguished panel of judges, suggest that insidious developments in areas of public health and safety are going unreported by the mainstream press.
Stories about the flexing of corporate muscles and government collusion dominate the 1998 Project Censored (PC) list. Story No. 4, for example, exposes how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in bed with the steel industry, and may soon allow millions of tons of radioactive metal to be "recycled" into everything from tables to eyeglasses. Story No. 2 explains how the pharmaceutical and chemical industries profit from breast cancer by producing both carcinogens and drugs touted as "cancer cures."
According to Peter Montague, author of one article cited, this story didnt make it into our daily newspapers because the solution to the problem would mean reordering corporate priorities. " It would mean that modern technology and the chemical industry would have to change, and thats not attractive to people who are deeply invested in (those industries)," Montague says.
The growing and complex issues associated with biotechnology and genetically engineered seeds similarly received little coverage in mainstream media. PCs story No. 3 is Monsanto Companys marketing of the "terminator seed," which produces infertile seeds at the end of the farming cycle, forcing farmers to buy new Monsanto seeds each season.
The story goes even deeper, according to Leora Broydo, whose MoJo Wire story was cited. Monsantos terminator seed was developed by a USDA scientist and then patented and sold to Monsanto making the USDA complicit in a development that will most likely work against American farmers best interests.
During Broydos initial research she interviewed Merlin Oliver, the USDA scientist who developed the seed. However, when she called him back with follow-up questions she was told Oliver could no longer speak to the press.
"I definitely have questions about how a government agency that regulates an industry can be so entrenched at the same time," says Broydo.
Later, the terminator seed story produced a more overt type of "censorship."
Britains The Ecologist, one of the publications cited by Project Censored, produced a special Monsanto issue in response to the companys Europe-wide genetic engineering advertising campaign. However, The Ecologists printers, fearing legal action from Monsanto, pulped the entire print-run hours before it was to be released. The UK spokesman for Monsanto said that the company had nothing to do with the printers decision.
Judges offered a withering critique of U.S. government policies, including gross hypocrisy in dealings with foreign governments. For example, story No. 5 reports on U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the deaths of a half million Iraqi children. However, deeper in the story the news is perhaps more alarming: The chemical and biological material sought by the United States in the aggressive search of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" was actually supplied to Iraq by the United States in the late 1980s, according to Pacifica Radio reporter Dennis Bernstein.
Furthermore, the No. 6 story, "Virtual Nukes When is a Test Not a Test?", argues that the U.S. nuclear program is carrying out tests that subvert the U.N. comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while at the same time aggressively attacking India for carrying underground test blasts.
Project Censored offers a broad definition of censorship, which makes sense given the nature of todays media. No longer is censorship an overt legal breach, easily cited and punished. Rather, censorship often takes place before a story is even written, when editors decide that exposing corporate and government excesses and abuses will result in conflicts with advertisers or corporate owners. The result is called "self-censorship."
Project Censoreds definition of censorship may explain why some seemingly well-covered stories made the Top 10 list. For example, story No. 1 the secret negotiations on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which threatens to undermine the sovereignty of nations is a story that received broad coverage in the international press, but much less in domestic media. But even PC missed some of this story. According to David Morris, syndicated columnist and director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, a worldwide coalition of activists built from NAFTA and GATT campaigns helped halt the MAI negotiations.
"As activists began to spread the word about the aims and implication of that document, the tide began to turn. By the end of 1998 U.S. policy-makers had abandoned their dream of making corporations sovereign over the people with one document. They are now resigned to trying to accomplish the same end via a variety of other forums. At this moment, the MAI is alive, but in emergency care. It will not be up and walking around for some time, if ever," Morris says.
Another story with mixed coverage was No. 8, "No Mercy For Women as Catholic Hospital Mergers Threaten Reproductive Rights," which suffered from a lack of national coverage, but was reported at the local level. Jennifer Baumgardners cover story for The Nations January 25, 1999, issue reported that people in Kingston, N.Y., who were the focus of the Ms. story in this category, were ultimately successful in resisting such a merger.
An even more subtle type of censorship comes from the drying up of resources for foreign coverage, as consolidated media companies focus increasingly on the bottom line. Consider the No. 10 story. "Thousands of Nigerian activists have been attacked for protesting against oil companies," says investigative journalist Monte Paulsen, who reported on the issue in the Metro Times ("Up against the oil," MT, Feb. 3-9, 1999). "But that story gets very little coverage because the corporate media is just too cheap. Why pay thousands of dollars for a reporter to cover the abuses of Nigerias oil dictatorship when they can report on Monica virtually for free?"
These forms of self-censorship, combined with a number of overt censorship tactics such as silenced sources or news outlets unwilling to sell controversial publications mean less substance in our media diet.
Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of Project Censoreds 1998 judges, says, "This past years censored list is brimming over with uncovered crucial stories which have devastating implications for the worlds future health and well-being. . ... They were all important. Many of them shared an underlying story: the disturbing consequences of the rise of a global economy. Its distressing that at the very time the world is going global, the media have narrowed their sights to an Oval Office broom closet."
No. 1: INTERNATIONAL TRADE DEAL UNDERMINES NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) would protect international investment and threaten national sovereignty by giving corporations rights nearly equal to those of nations. Poor domestic coverage of the agreements ramifications led PC judges to name this the No. 1 unreported story of 1998.
The MAI would give international corporate capital free rein over the democratic values and socioeconomic needs of people. An international grassroots effort built from previous struggles over GATT and NAFTA has derailed the MAIs chances of being approved internationally. The possibility of MAI coming before the U.S. Senate are now slim. .
Sources: IN THESE TIMES, Joel Bleifuss, January 11, 1998; DEMOCRATIC LEFT, Bill Dixon, Spring 1998;
TRIBUNE DES DRIOTS HUMAINS, April 1998
No. 2: PROFITING FROM BREAST CANCER
Chemical and pharmaceutical companies are making huge profits from breast cancer, manufacturing and selling known carcinogens on one hand, and then producing (and profiting from) breast cancer treatment drugs on the other. Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, among the worlds largest manufacturers of pesticides, plastics, and pharmaceuticals is also the controlling sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), so theyre able to approve or veto any promotional or informational materials, posters, advertisements, etc. that BCAM uses. The focus is limited to early detection and treatment, with an avoidance of the topic of prevention.
Critics have begun to question why.
Sources: RACHELS ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH WEEKLY, Peter Montague, Dec. 4, 1997;THE GREEN GUIDE, Allison Sloan and Tracy Baxter, Oct. 1998
No. 3: GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS THREATEN FOOD PRODUCTION
Monsanto Company, in conjunction with the USDA, has patented genetically engineered seeds that produce sterile offspring, making impossible the age-old practice of saving seeds from season to season, thus forcing farmers to return to the company each year to purchase more. These "terminator seeds" pose a potential threat to farmers in developing countries and to the worlds food supply.
Sources: MOJO WIRE, Leora Broydo, April 7, 1998;
THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE No. 92, Chakravarthi Raghavan;
EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Hope Shand and Pat Mooney, Fall 1998; THE ECOLOGIST, Brian Tokar, Sept./Oct. 1998, Vol. 28, No. 5
No. 4: RECYCLING RADIOACTIVE METALS FOR YOUR HOME
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the steel industry have joined forces to relax regulations that keep recycled radioactive metal out of our homes. Relaxed standards would allow companies to convert millions of tons of low-level radioactive metal into household items such as tables, utensils and eyeglasses.
Source: THE PROGRESSIVE, Anne-Marie Cusac, October 1998
No. 5: U.S. WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION LINKED TO THE DEATHS OF A HALF MILLION CHILDREN
For more than six years the United States has strongly supported sanctions against Iraq punishing the Iraqis for their leaders failure to allow United Nations inspectors to search freely for "weapons of mass destruction." The sanctions have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Perhaps more startling is the allegation that many of the weapons being sought were supplied to Iraq by the United States in the 1980s.
Sources: SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, Dennis Bernstein, Feb. 25, 1998; I.F. MAGAZINE, Bill Blum, March/April 1998; SPACE AND SECURITY NEWS, the Most Rev. Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., United States Air Force (retired), May 1998
No. 6: U.S. NUCLEAR PROGRAM SUBVERTS TEST BAN TREATY
When scientists in India conducted a deep underground nuclear test on May 11, 1998, it was seen as a violation of the United Nations Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), even though that country did not sign the document. But two months earlier, when the United States carried out an underground test at the Department of Energys underground test site in Nevada, it went largely unnoticed by the American media, though it was perceived as threatening to the Test Ban Treaty by other countries. The United States insisted that it was a subcritical test no nuclear reaction maintained and consistent with the CTBT.
Source: THE NATION, Bill Mesler, June 15,1998
No. 7: GENE TRANSFERS LINKED TO DISEASES?
A major public health crisis may be on the horizon, as both emergent and recurring diseases reach new heights of antibiotic resistance. At least 30 new diseases have emerged over the past 20 years, and familiar infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria are returning with vigor. By 1990 nearly every common bacterial species had developed some degree of resistance to drug treatment, many to multiple antibiotics. A major contributing factor, in addition to antibiotic overuse, might be the transfer of genes between unrelated species of animals and plants which takes place with genetic engineering. Meanwhile, regulators are considering a further relaxation of safety rules for this inherently hazardous field. There currently is no independent investigation into the relationship between genetic engineering and the emergent and recurrent diseases.
Sources: THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE, No. 92, Mae-Wan Ho, and Terje Traavik; THE ECOLOGIST, Mae-Wan Ho, Hartmut Meyer and Joe Cummins, May/June 1998, Vol. 28, No. 3
No. 8: CATHOLIC HOSPITAL MERGERS THREATEN REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
In 1996, more than 600 hospitals merged with Catholic institutions in 19 states. According to PC, this threatens womens access to abortions, sterilization, birth control, and in vitro fertilization, impairing reproductive health care, since Catholic institutions bar these services. While this story has received intense local coverage, and activists have gained victories in protecting womens health care rights, there has been little coverage at the national level. The hospitals also restrict fetal tissue experimentation.
Source: U.S. MAGAZINE, Christine Dinsmore July/August 1998
No. 9: TAX DOLLARS SUPPORT DEATH SQUADS IN CHIAPAS
Mexican paramilitary soldiers, infamous for slaughtering villagers in the Chiapas region of Mexico, are charged with being trained to torture and kill with U.S. tax dollars. Their ostensible ongoing mission is to fight the drug war, but peasant activists in Chiapas say the real motive is the protection of foreign investment rights in Mexico.
Sources: SLINGSHOT, the Slingshot collective, Summer 1998; DARK NIGHT FIELD NOTES/ZAPATISMO, Darrin Wood
No. 10: STUDENT ACTIVISTS GUNNED DOWN ON CHEVRON OIL FACILITY IN NIGERIA
Nigerian activists have stepped up the struggle against the multinational oil companies which, in conjunction with Nigerias brutal dictatorship, have turned the pristine Niger delta into an environmental and economic wasteland. On May 28, 1998, Chevron Oil retaliated by using its helicopters to fly in squads of Nigerian paramilitary troops who attacked and killed activists at an off-shore Chevron rig.
Sources: ERA ENVIRONMENTAL TESTIMONIES, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, July 10, 1998;
PACIFICA RADIO, Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill, September 1998
Getting beyond the headlines
Project Censored 1998 National Judges
Dr. Donna Allen, president of the Womens Institute for Freedom of the Press; founding editor of Media Report to Women; co-editor: Women Transforming Communications: Global Perspectives
Ben Bagdikian,* professor emeritus, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California-Berkeley; author of Media Monopoly, and five other books and numerous articles
Richard Barnet, author of 15 books and numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine, Nation and Progressive
Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist; author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
Dr. George Gerbner, dean emeritus, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania; author of Invisible Crises: What Conglomerate Media Control Means for America and the World
Juan Gonzalez, award-winning journalist and columnist for the New York Daily News
Aileen C. Hernandez, president of Urban Consulting in San Francisco; former commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Dr. Carl Jensen, founder and former director of Project Censored; author of Censored: The News That Didnt Make the News and Why, 1990 to 1996, and 20 Years of Censored News
Sut Jhally, professor of communications, and executive director of the Media Education Foundation, University of Massachusetts
Nicholas Johnson,* professor, College of Law, University of Iowa; former FCC Commissioner (1966-1973); author of How To Talk Back To Your Television Set
Rhoda H. Karpatkin, president, Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports
Charles L. Klotzer, editor and publisher emeritus, St. Louis Journalism Review
Nancy Kranich, associate dean of the New York University Libraries, and member of the board of directors of the American Library Association
Judith Krug, director, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association; editor of Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom
Frances Moore Lappe, co-founder and co-director, Center for Living Democracy; author of Diet for a Small Planet
William Lutz, professor of English, Rutgers University; author of The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyones Saying Anymore
Julianne Malveaux, economist and columnist, King Features and Pacifica Radio talk show host
Jack L. Nelson,* professor, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University; author of 16 books and more than 150 articles
Michael Parenti, political analyst, lecturer, and author of books including: Inventing Reality; The Politics of News Media; and The Politics of Entertainment
Herbert I. Schiller, professor emeritus of communication, University of California, San Diego; author of books including Culture, Inc. and Information Inequality
Barbara Seaman, author of The Doctors Case Against the Pill, Women and the Crisis in Sex Hormones, and other works; co-founder of the National Womens Health Network
Erna Smith, chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, author of studies on mainstream news coverage on people of color
Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld,* president, D.C. Productions Ltd.; former press secretary for Betty Ford
Howard Zinn, professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, author of A Peoples History of the United and other books
* Indicates Project Censored Judge since its founding in 1976