Censorship brings ‘truth emergency’

Marie-Helene Rousseau

The year is 1994. Pictures of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley cover the pages of prominent US newspapers and magazines. Yet hidden from national view is the attempted elimination of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda. When news of pop stars and their marriages and divorces takes precedence over stories about the Iraq War or privacy concerns in an age of increasing security measures, US citizens are faced, as described by the director of Project Censored, “with a truth emergency”.

To address this emergency, Project Censored, a non-profit media project within the Sonoma State University Foundation, each year compiles 25 stories which they say have been neglected by the mainstream media. Since 1976, when Carl Jensen founded the research facility, these stories have comprised a yearbook of controversial stories that have gone largely unread and underreported. The organisation, now headed by Peter Phillips, a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University, works with students and faculty of SSU to review and select which of the 700-1,000 annually submitted stories make the final cut.

A panel of judges then ranks the 25 stories in order of importance.

How do they determine what constitutes “censorship”? An explanation on rojectCensored.org states, “We define Modern Censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets.” The organisation outlines a set of criteria by which individuals can determine if a story is suitable for the “censored” list. The first of these criteria reads, “A Censored news story is one which contains information that the general United States population has a right and need to know, but to which it has had limited access.”

Indeed, none of the selected stories have appeared in the mainstream press, a category encompassing widely read publications such as The New York Times and the network news

channels. Rather, the stories have been covered by a select number of independent media that are free from the constraints of corporate ownership. The number one story this year gave a staggering answer to a question that has been glossed over in the mainstream press — just how many Iraqi lives have been lost because of the US occupation? The answer is one million, and it exceeds the death toll of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, points out the Censored entry.

The Winter Soldier hearings, which took place in Silver Springs, Maryland in March of 2008 organised by Veterans against War, also found a place on the list at number nine. The testimonies of more than 300 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans revealed atrocities they not only saw, but also participated in, such as desecrating corpses and targeting civilians. While mass media closely followed such stories as Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy and Alec Baldwin’s marital problems, reports regarding the aftermath of the Iraq War and privacy concerns were hidden.

News of abuse and death in juvenile detention centres, unprecedented rates of arrests for marijuana possession in the US, corporate profiteering from No Child Left Behind, and the American Psychiatric Association’s sanctioning and aiding in torture methods lay buried underneath images of Paris Hilton’s new escapades. And those are just the top 25.