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December 2, 2009

Who controls the media?

The Canadian Charger

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One of the universal truths about the media is this famous observation by American journalist A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one."

News Media ReutersOne of the universal truths about the media is this famous observation by American journalist A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one."

This truth obviously applies to closed societies where the state owns the media and tells it what to say, but you don’t have to look very hard to realize that it also apples to democracies like Canada and the U.S.

The difference is that corporations control the media on behalf of the government and other wealthy and powerful elites.

The corporate media are eager allies rather critics because they share the same superior views about Western economic, financial and social systems.

The nation’s business elite, including those from the banking, investment, oil, military and auto industries sit on the board of directors of media companies.

In Canada, board members of the pro-Israel CanWest media empire, which owns and controls over 60 percent of all electronic and print media, come mostly from the financial investment sector.

Media support of government has a long history.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of a media empire that controls newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, cable companies and movie studios on three continents, was once asked to what extent his political conservatism influenced the editorial posture of his newspapers,. He responded: “Considerably. The buck stops on my desk. My editors have input, but I make final decisions.”

He added that he thought of himself not merely as a conservative but as a radical conservative.

In the early 1950s, U.S. publisher Joseph Pulitzer, upset that his editors were too critical of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt, said to them: “I must ask that the words ‘McCarthy’ or ‘McCarthyism’ or any oblique reference to either not appear on the editorial page without my specific approval.”

C. Peter Jorgensen, publisher of Century Newspapers Inc., told his editors in the Boston area: “I do not intend to pay for paper and ink, or staff time and effort, to print news or opinion pieces which in any way might be construed to lend support, comfort, assistance, or aid to political candidates who are opposed by Republican candidates…If this is unclear in any way, resolve every question in your mind with a decision NOT to print.”

Clearly, the idea that a free press is a unique, fundamental feature of Western democratic society is a myth.

Dr. Michael Parenti says in his book The Politics of News Media: “We do not have a free and independent press in the United States, but one that is tied by purchase and persuasion to wealthy owners and advertisers, and subjected to influences of state power. Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Many people who hear about ‘a controlled press’ think only of something that exists in other lands.”

Just as the corporate media influence government, governments also influence the media.

In fact, a revolving door exists among media, government and corporations.

After they left office U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA director William Casey sat on the board of major media like New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NBC and CBS. In such a climate, intimidation and co-optation are inevitable.

The White House often conveys strongly worded “suggestions” to the media, and complains about stories and reporters.

Dan Rather of CBS once said that Reagan administration officials frequently went over his head to top CBS executive to complain about his reporting.

They were displeased with CBS coverage of the unemployment situation and the criticism of barring of reporters from the Grenada invasion, although CBS did not dare criticize the invasion itself.

Charles Colson, while he was a White House aide, met with the executives of the big U.S. TV networks upon his request.

He reported after the meeting, “The networks badly want to have these kinds of discussions ... [CBS Board Chairman William] Paley went out of his way to say how much he supports the president [Reagan] and how popular the president is.”

Media super star Walter Cronkite, who ended his evening newscast with the famous phrase “and that’s the way it is,” admitted upon retirement that it wasn’t so. “My lips have been kind of buttoned for almost twenty years ... CBS News doesn’t really believe in commentary.”

In some cases, governments have been known to use the police to force reporters to disclose sources, and if they didn’t comply they were threatened with prison.

Police even seize documents and computer files from reporters’ homes. The case of the RCMP raid on the house of Ottawa Citizen journalist Juliet O’Neill is well known.

Such bully tactics cannot help but lead to self-censorship, and force journalists to put concerns for their careers ahead of their ethics. As a result, journalists easily get caught up in the corporate media culture.

To advance their careers, they generally stand with those in power rather than oppose them.

They also socialize with the politicians they are supposed to scrutinize. Barbara Walters, for instance, spent many of her off-duty hours from ABC with Henry Kissinger when he was in the Nixon administration.

Journalists deemed “favourable” to the government can expect to be invited to gala state events. Those deemed “unfavourable,” are ostracized. Not only are they excluded from state functions, but they are also denied interviews and access to information. The same is true of their employers.

When Martin Schramm published a story in Newsday critical of Bebe Rebozo, a close associate of President Richard Nixon, he was denied access to White House communication director Ron Ziegler, and Newsday itself was excluded from the media contingent that accompanied Nixon on his historic trip to China.

Collusion between government and media, though, is not always so blatant.

“While posing as an objective chronicler of the events of the day, the press generally functions more as a public relations conduit for top government leaders, especially that most exalted leader of all, the president…,” said Parenti.

“Conservative presidents are especially well served. A systematic examination of twenty-five years of presidential news in the New York Times and Time magazine, and ten years of CBS newscasts, reveals a consistent pattern of favorable coverage of the President with sympathetic stories outnumbering critical ones two to one.”

This public relations function is done through direct media infiltration. In his book Deadly Deceits: My 25 years in the CIA, former agent/ /Ralph McGehee wrote that the agency routinely turned journalists into agents and agents into journalists, to spread lies primarily to the American public.

Daniel Schorr admitted that as a foreign correspondent for CBS he routinely swapped intelligence with the CIA (New York Times, Jan. 5, 1978).

In When Government Speaks, author Mark Yudof said the Pentagon puts out hundreds of stories and canned editorials each week, and the media present them to the public as though they were trustworthy products of independent journalism.

“The worst forms of tyranny, or certainly the most successful ones, “ wrote Parenti, “are not those we rail against, but those that so insinuate themselves into the imagery of our consciousness, and the fabric of our lives, as not to be perceived as tyranny.”

Finally, the best description of our corrupt media culture comes from an address that American journalist John Swinton gave to his fellow journalists:

“There is no such thing in America as an independent press... You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares write his honest opinions, and if you did you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper... any of you who would be so foolish as to write his honest opinions would be out on the street looking for another job... We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes... Our talents, our possibilities, and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

For this reason people must create, support, write for, and read alternative independent media -- The Canadian Charger is one.

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