Twenty years ago, Dr. Carl Jensen, professor of communication studies at Sonoma State University in California, launched “Project Censored” in a valiant effort to make the American public more aware of the media’s “self censorship” which leaves the nation’s information plate so empty and unsatisfying.
In the place of stories that should have provided the entrees for the nation’s growing information feast, Dr. Jensen argues that the television networks, daily newspapers and magazines continue to serve up what he describes as little more than “junk food”.
Dr. Jensen’s “Project Censored” has just published its new yearbook containing the newsworthy events of 1995 “that didn’t make the news and why.”
Topping Project Censored’s list of stories pushed off the table by most of the national media was “Telecommunications Deregulation: Closing Up America’s Marketplace of Ideas”, by the Consumer Project on Technology. Also on the list was a piece produced by Southern Exposure, “Working in Harm’s Way” which found that child labor is worse today in the U.S. than during the 1930s.
Covert/Action Quarterly’s “NAFTA’s Corporate Con Artists” and Mother Jones’ “A Giant Spraying Sound” also made Project Censored’s top 10 in detailing the long string of broken promises of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Project Censored notes that NAFTA’s “promises” were Number 7 on the Associated Press’ list of top 10 stories back in 1993 when corporate America was extolling the virtues of the trade agreement. But, the story on the “broken promises” didn’t even break into the AP’s list of top stories this year.
Other stories that made the top rungs of the “censored” list included pieces on the privatization of the Internet, attacks on the Food and Drug Administration, medical fraud, the U. S. chemical industry’s fight for toxic ozone-killing pesticide and corporate welfare.
Project Censored’s Carl Jensen is blunt about why so much of the news doesn’t make the cut in national media.
“…the bottom line explanation for much of the censorship that occurs in America’s mainstream media is the media’s own bottom line,” Dr. Jensen writes. “Corporate media executives perceive their primary, and often sole, responsibility to be the need to maximize profits, not, as some have it, to inform the public.”
In the preface to the 20th edition of Project Censored’s Yearbook contends that it is a responsibility of the media to provide “warning signals” for society.
“When a problem arises, there should be a warning signal-information–that alerts citizens that something is wrong which needs attention and resolution,” he writes. “An aware and informed populace could then influence its leaders to act upon that information in an effort to solve the problem.”
This, however, is rarely the approach of a U. S. media that devotes inordinate time and space to stories of violence, man-made and natural disasters and personalities.
Project Censored’s annual effort is a sharp and extremely valuable reminder that the United States–awash in the world’s greatest array of information technology–is starved for the real news and information that makes a difference in people’s lives.
Unfortunately, Carl Jensen after 20 years is retiring from Project Censored. The work will continue in able hands, but Dr. Jensen will be missed tremendously by people who care about the quality, and not just the quantity, of news. Under his guidance, Project Censored has become a critically important and a very tough watchdog over the national media.
In this year’s edition of Project Censored’s Yearbook, Dr. Jensen’s eloquently lays out the philosophy that has guided his work over the last 20 years:
“The press has the power to stimulate people to clean up the environment; to prevent nuclear proliferation; to force corrupt politicians out of office; to reduce poverty; to provide quality health care for all people; to create a truly equitable society; and, as we have seen, to literally save the lives of millions of human beings.
“And this is why we must look to, prod and support a free, open and aggressive press. We have a free press in the United States guaranteed by the First Amendment and we have the best communications technology in the world. Now let us seek a more responsible and responsive press–a press that truly earns its First Amendment rights. Indeed, a press not afraid to do a little muckraking. Then, and only then, will we all have the information we need to build a more enlightened and responsive society.”
Dr. Jensen’s words should be affixed to the bulletin boards in every newsroom in America. And, perhaps, read aloud to a few publishers and television executives.
[Censored, the 20th anniversary edition of Project Censored’s Yearbook, is available from Seven Stories Press, 632 Broadway, Seventh floor, New York, N. Y., 10012.]