Media Censorship and a Free Press in America

by Peter Phillips, Director, Project Censored


Images of the zealous governmental censor imply that censorship is an intentional act. However, the restructuring of media in the United States is creating latent forms of censorship that are just as potentially damaging as overt censorship.

Media corporations have been undergoing a massive merging and buy-out process that is realigning our sources of information in America. Conglomeration changes traditional media corporate cultures. Values such as freedom of information and belief in the responsibility of keeping the public informed are adjusted to reflect policies created by bottom-line oriented CEOs.

Media owners and managers are motivated to please advertisers and upper middle class readers and viewers. Journalists and editors are not immune from management influence. Journalists want to see their stories approved for print or broadcast, and editors come to know the limits of their freedom to diverge from the bottom line view of owners and managers. The results are an expansion of entertainment news, infomercials, and synergistic news- all aimed at increased profit taking. For example in 1997, the new CEO of the Los Angeles Times found it necessary to assign a business manager to each section of the newspaper in order to insure that a proper profit-oriented product was developed and to help maintain a corporate climate that reflected the management desires of the board of directors.

The eleven largest or most influential media corporations in the United States are General Electric Company (NBC), Viacom Inc. (cable), The Walt Disney Company (ABC), Time Warner Inc.(CNN), Westinghouse Electric Corporation (CBS), The News Corporation Ltd. (Fox), Gannett Co. Inc., Knight-Ridder Inc., New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., and the Times Mirror Co. These eleven major broadcast and print media corporations now represent a major portion of the news information systems in the United states. For many people their entire source of news and information comes from these eleven corporations.

Collectively, these eleven major media corporations had 155 directors in 1996. These 155 directors, a group small enough to fit in a medium-size university classroom, also hold 144 directorships on the boards of Fortune 1,000 corporations in the United States. They are the media elite of the world. While they may not agree on abortion and other domestic issues, they do represent the collective vested interests of a significant portion of corporate America and share a common commitment to free market capitalism, economic growth, internationally protected copyrights, and a government dedicated to protecting their interests.

The eleven media organizations have interlocking directorships with each other through 36 other Fortune 1,000 corporations creating a solid network of overlapping interests and affiliations. All eleven media corporations have direct links with at least two of the other top media organizations. General Electric, owner of NBC, has the highest rate of shared affiliations with 17 direct corporate links to nine of 10 other media corporations.

Given this interlocked media network, it is more than safe to say that major media in the United States effectively represent the interests of corporate America, and that the media elite are the watchdogs of acceptable ideological messages, the parameters of news and information content, and the general use of media resources.

Do the media elite directly censor the news? Without being privy to insider conversations, it is difficult to prove direct censorship by management of particular stories in the news. But an organizational tendency is to comply with the general corporate culture, and career-minded journalists and editors sharing this common corporate culture will create what direct censorship cannot: a general compliance with the attitudes, wishes, and expectations of the media elite and in turn corporate America.

Keeping democracy safe in America requires an informed electorate and a strong watchdog press. But major media today are tending to favor news stories on sex scandals, celebrity events, and crime, leaving less or little room for analytical news on important social issues. If privately owned commercial media will not meet the task of keeping democracy safe, then it is time for a strong public supported national news system.

Media Control and Propaganda