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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Corporate censorship in America

In 1969 Nicholas Johnson, United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner, put forward in an article in TV Guide entitled The Silent Screen that "Censorship is a serious problem" in the United States, and that he agreed with the statements by various network officials that television was subject to it, but disputed "just who is doing most of the censoring". He stated that most television censorship is corporate censorship, not government censorship.

Croteau and Hoynes discuss corporate censorship in the news publishing business, observing that it can occur as self-censorship. They note that it is "virtually impossible to document", because it is covert. Jonathan Alter states that "In a tight job market, the tendency is to avoid getting yourself or your boss in trouble. So an adjective gets dropped, a story skipped, a punch pulled … It's like that Sherlock Holmes story — the dog that didn't bark. Those clues are hard to find.". The head of the Media Access Project notes that such self-censorship is not misreporting or false reporting, but simply not reporting at all. The self-censorship is not the product of "dramatic conspiracies", according to Croteau and Hoynes, but simply the interaction of many small daily decisions. Journalists want to keep their jobs. Editors support the interests of the company. These many small actions and inactions accumulate to produce (in their words) "homogenized, corporate-friendly media". Croteau and Hoynes report that such corporate censorship in journalism is commonplace, reporting the results of studies revealing that more than 40% of journalists and news executives stating that they had deliberately engaged in such censorship by avoiding newsworthy stories or softening the tones of stories.

Nichols and McChesney opine that "the maniacal media baron as portrayed in James Bond films or profiles of Rupert Murdoch is far less a danger than the cautious and compromised editor who seeks to 'balance' a responsibility to readers or viewers with a duty to serve his boss and the advertisers". They state that "even among journalists who entered the field for the noblest of reasons" there is a tendency to avoid any controversial journalism that might embroil the news company in a battle with a powerful corporation or a government agency.
Self-censorship is not the only form of corporate censorship in the news and entertainment businesses. Croteau and Hoynes also describe examples of managers censoring their employees, subdivisions of conglomerates applying pressure upon one another, and pressure applied upon corporations by external entities such as advertisers.
One of the incidents of corporate censorship that Croteau and Hoynes find to be "the most disturbing" in their view is the news reporting in the U.S. of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which made fundamental changes to the limitations on ownership of media conglomerates within the U.S. and which was heavily lobbied for by media interests, and yet which was subject to, in Croteau and Hoynes words, "remarkably little coverage" by U.S. news media.

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