Weapons of Mass Distraction – Freedom of the Press? US Activists and Journalists Face Surveillance
By Mark Taylor-Canfield
(From Mark’s Syndicated Monthly Column – “Weapons of Mass Distraction”)
Thank you to the editors for allowing me to tell the truth without censorship! Here’s another of my honest efforts to do just that. I only hope this piece doesn’t get me into trouble with my own publishers at other websites and/or the folks who control social media networks.
let’s face it, in the land of the free and the brave the press has suffered from corporate media consolidation and lack of funding for alternative media. Witness the recent demise of the progressive national radio network Air America. Many of those broadcasters are still lamenting their lack of access to the national airwaves, so many of them have gone to the web and started their own shows, sometimes livestreaming from their own bedrooms or basements. Al Gore’s experiments in alternative news coverage went under and was purchased by Al Jazeera, prompting numerous outraged remarks by right-wing pundits who accuse the cable network of being disloyal to America.
Reality check: Reporters Without Borders ranks the US as 47th on the world press freedom index. This number represents a slip from 19th in previous years. According to RWB this drop in status is a result of the arrests of journalists at Occupy Wall Street protests. It is a well known fact among occupiers that live video streamers have been targeted, raided and arrested by police at major OWS events around the country, including demonstrations in New York City during the OWS anniversary, and in Chicago during protests at the NATO summit last year.
Although freedom of the press is protected by the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, it appears that the “fourth estate” has been placed under duress while trying to report major political news stories.
The latest insult to press freedom is the story of Shannon McLeish, a journalist and broadcaster from Daytona Beach, Florida. In December 2012, Shannon says she found out through Freedom of Information Act documents that her name is included on a “terrorist watch list.” Except for Chris Hedge’s column @ Truthdig or my own article @ Truthout, this story is not being reported by the national media.
A recent guest on Shannon’s radio program was Noam Chompsky. (Disclaimer: I have also been a guest on “AIr Occupy”.) I found the broadcasting crew to be authentic, altruisitic advocate journalists trying to get at the truth about what’s happening around the world and in this nation. Recent shows featured guests who discussed fracking, attacks on the power of labor unions and the civil rights implications of the National Defense Authorization Act. According to Liz Myers, co-host of the “Air Occupy” program, Youtube deleted their channel after they did the program on the NDAA. Youtube claimed the program had “violated community standards” but apparently they presented no specific complaint.
Add to this information the fact that at least a few other US activists have had their Twitter accounts deleted, and some folks have been banned from posting on any Facebook sites besides their own. The irony of indy activists using corporate owned social media platforms is not lost on me. Try criticizing Facebook or Twitter and see how long it takes to attract their attention. These are profit motivated websites – commercial enterprises that do not necessarily support freedom of political expression. One man banned from Twitter claims his account was deleted after he tweeted a statement made by Indian non-violence advocate Mahatma Gandhi!
I came within a hair’s breadth of being banned from writing at Daily Kos after I wrote an article about Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Luckily, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas decided not to allow me to be ostracized by outraged Democratic Party readers. The Democrats reminded me that Daily Kos is a pro Democratic Party website that is not interested in articles about the Greens. Obviously many Democrats still see the Green Party as a threat to their vote counts and they still blame Ralph Nader for the election of George W. Bush. Of course the editors have the right to choose the topics on their website, but I must admit I felt I had been censored. I can no longer write about the Greens at Daily Kos without running the risk of banishment. The site which Time magazine readers voted as “2nd best blog” in the US is not a completely open forum for discussion.
Besides the fears of banishment and government surveillance, reporters also have to face the very real threat of legal retribution from social network sites if they are courageous enough to criticize their policies. Calling Facebook or twitter “undemocratic” will not win you the admiration or respect of the administrators or owners. I will admit that I am very careful what I post these days. I was banned by Facebook from posting anywhere but on my own website for two months allegedly due to “spamming” activity. The truth is, I posted many political articles on sites around the world which are dedicated to politics and activism. I have never tried to recruit anyone for a campaign; I have never offered anything for sale; I have never endorsed any commercial enterprise.
And now, in an ironic turn of events, I may qualify as a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook. The suit claims that FB included user’s posts and photographs in their ads without permission from the authors and photographers. By the way, Facebook completely denies this claim.
I take these issues very seriously because last year I won a major federal class action lawsuit against the Washington State Patrol after I was illegally detained and banned from covering protests at the state capitol in Olympia. Federal District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan ruled in my favor. According to his decision, the WSP had violated my freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Now I am corresponding with Reporters Without Borders, the Committee To Protect Journalists, and the Society For Professional Journalism. My task – document these abuses!
To me it really comes down to a simple question: “Should US journalists be proud and satisfied with their status in society at this time?” As I have stated in my article at Truthout, these restrictions (along with the perceived harassment and threats) has silenced some editors, publishers, producers and reporters who are now afraid to cover controversial stories. I maintain that the result is self-censorship from folks who don’t want to lose their jobs or find their names on a government watch list.
Just a reminder – my favorite journalists Greg Palast, Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges have been forced to give up lucrative positions at major US media corporations in order to report the truth without restrictions. Palast now does investigative journalism for the BBC and Greenwald writes for the UK Guardian. It’s amazing that we still have a few strong independent voices left in this country – Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Aaron Glantz and Arun Gupta, Matt Taibbi to name a few who deserve our praise for standing up against the establishment at a time when doing so could be very detrimental to both your psychological and financial health…
His Op-ed @ Truthout – Press freedom?
Mark’s Testimony Before The FCC – Effects of Corporate Media Consolidation
Mark’s Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit