Monday, May 09, 2005

How Free Is the US Press?

Not very; they make 6 figure salaries for doing nothing that could be called, how free is that?

Actually, most of them are rather expensive whores.

Americans believe their press is free because it is not controlled by the government, per se. It is controlled by the corporations that own it. There is no difference, today, between the government and the corporations. Therefore, our press is not free.

As a matter of fact, the MSM has cost us billions and blood, not only our own, but of Arabs world wide, and Arab blood is no less precious than American blood, for the Arabs are our sisters and brothers. What we do to them, we have already done to ourselves.

William Fisher, Arab News

Recent polling data shows that most Americans think their press is the freest in the world — indeed, some believe it is too free. But according to a new report by Freedom House, a highly respected civil liberties advocacy group, the US is among countries that have experienced “notable setbacks” in press freedom.

“Freedom of the Press 2005: A Global Survey of Media Independence,” revealed that the US was tied with Barbados, Canada, Dominica, Estonia, and Latvia at 24th place out of 194 countries covered in the survey.

The report said the US score declined due to “a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations.”

It declared, “Doubts concerning official influence over media content emerged with the disclosures that several political commentators received grants from federal agencies, and that the Bush administration had significantly increased the practice of distributing government-produced news segments.”

The survey was produced by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions covering a wide range of press freedom violations.

Of the 194 countries and territories examined, 75 (39 percent) were rated “Free”, 50 (26 percent) were rated “Partly Free” and 69 (35 percent) were rated “Not Free”. The freest nations in 2004 were Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. At the very bottom of the list was North Korea, followed by Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, and Turkmenistan. The second reason for the poorer showing by the US, the Freedom House report claims, is the government’s practice of paying journalists to espouse administration positions without identifying their government sponsors.

In one case, the administration — seeking to build support among black families for its education reform plans — paid a prominent African American pundit, Armstrong Williams, $240,000 to promote the “No Child Left Behind” law on his nationally syndicated television show and through his newspaper column, and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

In addition, the government has been producing Video News Releases (VNRs) — pre-packaged to look like independent news — and distributing them to local television stations across the US. The stations frequently fail to identify the government as the source, thus encouraging viewers to believe they are watching genuine news.

More than 20 different federal agencies have used taxpayer funds to produce television news segments promoting Bush administration policies.

Bush has defended the government’s sending such “pre-packaged news stories” to local television stations and says he plans to continue the practice. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional watchdog agency, has called them a form of “covert propaganda”.

“Paying journalists to write positive stories is part of a pattern of secrecy and manipulating the public that undermines our safety and our democracy”, Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, told IPS.

Rick Blum of, another pro-transparency advocacy group, told IPS, “The public expects journalists are credible and independent, free of government money and conflicts of interest.”

Norman Solomon, a syndicated columnist on media and politics and founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, said in an interview with IPS, “The ‘video news releases’ put out by the US government are pernicious because the TV broadcasts often do not tell the viewers that the government is funding and controlling those supposed ‘news’ reports.”

And Martin Kaplan, head of the Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, told IPS: “The consequence of their injecting fake news into the media mainstream may be even worse than poisoning public debate on specific issues. It corrodes the ability of real journalism to do its job.”

But, media critics say, there are many other factors at play in the diminution of press freedom in the US. A major threat, they say, is the Bush administration’s excessive secrecy.

Bill Moyers, who recently retired as one of America’s most respected broadcast journalists and who was press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson when Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act IN 1966, charges that President Bush) “has clamped a lid on public access.”

Journalists complain that administration secrecy has greatly increased the difficulty of accurately reporting the Bush White House. According to US News and World Report, the administration has “quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government — cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government...”

The US has been through other periods of censorship and self-censorship, but has always bounced back to fully assert its First Amendment freedoms. The principal difference is that, on most of the previous occasions, press blackouts occurred during wars. And in those days, wars had beginnings and ends. The so-called “war on terror”, which is responsible for much of the fear spreading through newsrooms, may not have an end.



Blogger Rell said...

that's an interesting point as well. Could it possibly be that our culture has made it so that writers and colunists are like celebrities now. Instead of the people who just inform us about what we need to know?

Also what do you think about the concept of agenda setting? The idea that the media doesn't tell you what to think, but what to think about.

check out my site and -- thanks!

Monday, May 09, 2005  

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