Hidden Agendas

Issue section: 
(291)

Review of 'Censored 2005', Peter Phillips and Project Censored, Seven Stories £12.99

Censored 2005 is a fat little gem of a book. It's a collection of stories from 2003/2004 that didn't quite make the splash they should have: Donald Rumsfeld's plan to provoke terrorism, Democrat legislation to bring back the draft, Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret meetings with Enron boss Kenneth Lay, for example.

The stories are mostly cropped from US news outlets. They show the strength of the US left, the value it places in informed citizenry, the determination to fight poisoning of American public life. For example, 'The Sale of Electoral Politics' is an excellent story about the glaring conflict of interest between three major suppliers of electronic voting machines and the Republican Party - the most obvious being Diebold, whose CEO promised, in a memo, to deliver Ohio's votes to Bush in the 2004 election. The story was a hot topic on the US left. People were burned by the experience of the last election. They weren't going to go through the same experience again.

As the controversy raged over electronic voting Diebold hired an outside company to prove the security of its software, Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It turned out SAIC also had strong links to the CIA and Donald Rumsfeld. A hundred or so pages later SAIC crops up again in 'Exporting Censorship to Iraq', running the Iraq Media Network, set up by the Pentagon as a means of information dissemination for the occupying forces.

The focus throughout the book is the mutual relationship between the media/capitalist elite and government. Each commits grotesque crimes, covered up by the other.

Of the less familiar stories, 'The Destabilization of Haiti' is especially good. In February 2004 the National Liberation and Reconstruction Front paramilitary group toppled Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the elected leader of Haiti. It happened after his government had been systematically undermined, denied aid and loans by the US. Aristide claims he was abducted by American and French soldiers. When the truth started appearing in alternative outlets it was embarrassing not just for the US government but for the major news networks pushing the government's line.

The later chapters are in-depth stories and thinkpieces. 'Death of a Nation: Conservative Talk Radio's Immigration and Race "Curriculum"' is a particularly sharp piece of research. Taking one state, Oregon, and one subject, immigration and race, it peels away talk radio's pretence of being 'news'.

'A CTR is a virtual town meeting.' But it's clear who gets to speak and who doesn't. Talk radio listeners are overwhelmingly conservative, white, male and better off. The topic of discussion is those who are not present, who do not have a voice - African-Americans, Latinos, Mexicans... Talk radio is not a news source but an echo chamber of reactionary views.

The final word must go to 'Challenging the New American Censorship', identifying the fundamental root of the new censorship. Owners of newspapers, radio stations, television channels and other media outlets are part of the ruling capitalist class. They are intimately connected with government and the state. They have common interests they seek to reinforce.

Meanwhile the 24-hour news agenda heightens the pressure on journalists. Under pressure they come to rely more and more on establishment contacts. At best, mainstream journalists submit to self-censorship. At worst, they come to see the bosses' interests as their own.

Our job is to break the vicious circle of censorship. We must make our alternative media; support the likes of John Pilger and Robert Fisk, journalists who defy the new censorship; ally it to our alternative politics in a mutual relationship for change.