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What is "Project Censored"?

Voltaire Network is initiating the publication of a series of research articles selected by the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University that form part of « Project Censored ». One of our main collaborators, Ernesto Carmona - Executive Secretary of the Investigative Commission into the Attacks Against Journalists, set up by the Latin American Presss Federation – expounds on the significance and importance of these investigations.

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In order to understand how « Project Censored » originated and prospered in the United States, one must go back to the Watergate scandal that resulted in President Richard Nixon’s impeachment in 1974. This controversial landmark event alerted many U.S. citizens to the fact that they were not being truthfully informed. Stirred by his own skepticism, Carl Jensen, a sociology professor at Sonoma State College (California), set out to personally investigate the sequence of facts that culminated in the Watergate scandal. Everything led to believe that the Republican administration had orchestrated an espionage operation against the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate Business Center in Washington D.C.

As in the case of the President of Guatemala who recently found out that his house and offices had been bugged with microphones and hidden cameras, the Washington democrats discovered that five innocent-looking « plumbers » were actually spies at the service of Nixon and the White House. They were restricted to planting microphones since mini video cameras had not yet been invented!

At first, on 30 April 1973, President Nixon acknowledged his government’s partial responsibility and fired a number of his most incriminated officers, but the following year, on 9 August 1974, he was compelled to resign from his functions. However, despite the magnitude of the scandal and the ensuing torrent of best-sellers, the major media continued to keep much of the information under wraps.

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Carl Jensen, Carl Jensen, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University in California; founder of "Project Censored"

A significant proportion of U.S. citizens began to realize that commercial news outlets were covering up the truth. Seconded by a group of students and sociology professors from his university, Carl Jensen set about surveying the preeminent facts that the big media [1] were concealing from the public.

It was under these circumstances that « Project Censored » came into being, publishing its first research report in 1976. It has since been institutionalized as an on-going, year-round research project, involving a team of students and researchers who work fearlessly to unearth the news that are intentionally omitted by the mainstream media to accommodate specific interests. More recently, « Project Censored » has been calling on ordinary citizens every year to help select, among the many hundreds of censored stories, the twenty-five most revealing press articles. Jensen has meanwhile retired, but he remains on the selection jury. At present, the project is directed by Peter Phillips, also a sociologist.

« Project Censored »’s turn to be censored

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Peter Phillips, Professor of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University in California; current Director of "Project Censored".

« Project Censored » publishes yearly a 500-page volume that broaches issues of crucial importance on a global scale, and which the imperial powers are hell bent on concealing from public notice. If a story is not printed on the pages of the U.S. mainstream media, it will also never surface in the worldwide communications system controlled by the multinational media corporations that cater to the interests of Washington and its allies. Together, major daily newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, radio stations such as Clear Channel Communications and television networks like CNN and Fox News, as well as the leading press agencies, constitute a global web with the power to decide on the trivia to be fed to the world population and on the critical issues that they want obfuscated.

The same news stories that are buried by the U.S. media groups are equally kept from the rest of world citizens, if only by way of the omissions dictated by the big media monopolies that hold sway over the information system worldwide. What is not aired on CNN or other big news channels is not likely to be picked up by news channels in other countries, not even in the third world. This explains the impact that censorship and disinformation, albeit for different reasons, have on countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and others insofar as they have no way of knowing about such information nor would they be able to access it as long as it remains the monopoly of the world communication system.

Sociologist Peter Phillips considers that in the U.S. media ownership is concentrated in such few hands that any story which is likely to ruffle the interests of the powers that be is simply eclipsed. The team that runs « Project Censored » collects each year hundreds of « censored news » at the hands of the big media, but which can be found through independent media, small editors, websites, radio programmes, trade union journals, or through foreign outlets, etc.

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Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, Sonoma State University. Member of "Project Censored".

Mention of this media research project in major newspapers has been dwindling. In 2003, erstwhile legendary journalist Walter Cronkite stated that «Project Censored» "is one of the organizations we should listen to, to be assured that our newspapers and broadcasting outlets are practicing thorough and ethical journalism." However, according to Phillips, the New York Times did not refer to it even once. “Two years ago, our project was acknowledged on only one occasion by the Chicago Tribune, just before the death of renowned journalist Molly Ivins who had commented our work in her regular column. Our local newspaper in California, which is also owned by the New York Times, grudgingly published our list of articles ... in the obituaries! We made the front page of our local paper only once when we published a physicist’s observations pointing out that the collapse of WTC Building 7 on September 11, 2001 could not have been caused by fire. Needless to say, the article was radically negative”, said Phillips. [2]

According to Phillips, « U.S. corporate media peddle sheer propaganda from the first line to the last and refuse to investigate the most egregious hypocrisies that mark the life of our nation, like the 2000 and 2004 electoral frauds ; the 1.2 million Iraqis killed since the occupation ; the 300% benefits raked in by corporations like Lockheed Martin as a result of the occupation ; or the juicy profits harvested by transnational companies like Halliburton and others thanks to the war.

Censorship or deception

The big media not only suppress certain stories, but they also distort what they publish on a daily basis. Their goal is to keep public opinion in the dark or to instill bogus ideas through a relentless feed of disinformation. For example, Georgia was transformed from aggressor to attacked country after its failed attempt to forcibly annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with secret U.S. and NATO support, on 8 August 2008 when everybody’s eyes were riveted on the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Reports concerning the Governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and others are systematically distorted. U.S. investigator Justin Delacour stated that « after having combed though the opinion columns of the twenty-five most important U.S. newspapers published in the first six months of 2005, he concluded that approximately 95% of the articles dealing with Venezuelan politics were unequivocally hostile towards democratically–elected President Hugo Chávez Frias. »

He further stated that « the opinion columns in question portray the President of Venezuela as a demagogue and an autocrat, misrepresenting the achievements of his domestic and foreign policies. These articles simply omit to mention that the Government of Venezuela enjoys the overwhelming support of the population, as evidenced by Chávez’s landslide victory in the 2004 presidential referendum and in other more recent surveys. Nearly always absent are commentaries by analysts who look favourably on Venezuela’s policies relating to mass education, health, food subsidies, microcredits favouring the poor, and so on». [3]

The U.S. media intentionally ignores and skews the real story of the five Cubans (internationally known as « The Five » or « Les Cinq »), who have been held in a U.S. prison for more than 10 years, falsely accused of committing espionage against the United States without a shred of evidence to support the charges or to show that they constituted a threat to the security of the Empire. They are well and truly political prisoners, incarcerated for monitoring the activities of Miami-based terrorist groups in order to gather information on their plans of aggression and sabotage against Cuba, like the bomb attacks perpetrated against foreign tourist hotels. Simply put, the Five are antiterrorist combatants ironically sanctioned by a country proclaiming to be the world champion of the «war on terror», abusing this guise to legitimize the torture of prisoners and the invations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In their book Manufacturing Consent [4], Phillips reminds us, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman explain that private ownership acts as a filter between the events and their publication by the media, whose ultimate goal is to increase their profits, protect the capitalist market, shield the powers that be and sow skepticism in respect of all independent media. He also notes that « the current landscape is different from the one painted by these two authors twenty years ago. The media CEOs can now congregate in one single room : they are a total of 180 people who influence the entire range of national media ». [5]

Phillips points out that « CEOs and media owners identify with the powerful. Their idea of what makes news is determined by their cultural mindset and they share the same conception of what is newsworthy or not. As for the journalists, they write to get their pieces published, to be heard on the radio or appear on television. If their opinions differ from those of the owners, their work will slip down the memory hole and the media doors will be closed on them forever."

See #1 News Story selected by Project Censored in 2009
Over One Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by US Occupation

[1] By « big media » we mean the conglomeration of newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television channels that formed at that time the information system in the United States. Their ownership was less concentrated than it is today, but at the end of the day it was the same companies that have merged in the meantime constituting at present the ten mega-conglomerates that have melded news and information with the leisure industry, in the same way as sports magazines, film production, movie theater screening. The daily newspapers, radio stations and television channels come under the same umbrella.

[2] Meeting with Peter Phillips, José Martí International Institute of Journalism, 14 May 2008; Havana, Cuba.

[3] Justin Delacour, « Is there a link between the Government and the U.S. media ? », Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information, March 2008 ; Caracas, Venezuela.

[4] Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (Vintage, 1998).

[5] Conference by Peter Phillips, José Martí International Institute of Journalism, 12 May 2008; La Havane, Cuba.

Ernesto Carmona

Ernesto Carmona Chilean journalist and writer. Director of the Chilean Council of Journalists ; Executive-Secretary of the Investigation Commission on attacks against journalists, Latin American Federation of Journalists (CIAP-FELAP).

 
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