Censorship and self-censorship

My latest blog rant approaches the issue of censorship and why we need resources like Indymedia. It was inspired by the latest of many attempts by mining companies and their cronies to silence my reporting on community radio 4ZzZ102.1fm in Brisbane. I've self-censored names to protect the innocent.


When you set out to tell the truth about things in the media, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. One of the biggest complaints independent journos and the reading public have against the mass media is the tendency to censor and self-censor so as not to offend the advertising-base (the other of course being the tendency to report things that benefit the owners stock portfolio!)

When we think of censorship, we usually think of repressive regimes in foreign countries or the control of hardcore pornography in our midst. And certainly the former can be not only used to prop up dodgy governments, but can also threaten the lives of journalists who try to speak the truth. Case in point, in May 2009 two US journalists, Lara Ling and Euna Lee visiting South Korea were arrested by North Korean authorities and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on June 8, 2009. [1]

However free we think we are in Australia, our very own government is already censoring the internet and intends to censor it further eroding our ability to get independent news unfettered by vested interests of big media. Communication minister Stephen Smith confirmed in 2009 that the Rudd government would go ahead with plans to implement legislation to enable, or indeed compel internet service providers to remove sites containing “inappropriate” content on top of the internet filter system already in place. Reporters Without Fronteirs says that,

In 1999, an amendment was put to the Broadcasting Services Act, creating the ACMA, responsible for regulating Internet content. This independent agency has the power to close websites that are the subject of complaints by citizens…To date authority has blocked 1,300 sites and is targeting some 10,000 others.[2]"

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of self-censorship by a media agency came from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation who in the early 2000s made a deal with the Chinese government to censor and block cable tv and internet services to secure the market there. Google followed News Corps lead and in 2006 made a similar deal to block web searches and websites linked to certain words including “democracy”. In a statement Google said, “While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information… is more inconsistent with our mission” [3] . Meanwhile Yahoo was actively helping to suppress Chinese dissenters by giving the Chinese government information that led to the incarceration of one journalist for 10 years in 2005.

Less life-threatening censorship that none-the-less can destroy lives is that within media organisations who a either threatened with legal action, or are attempting to protect their income base. Conventions like “freedom of the press” and “protecting your sources” are often cited by journos who are threatened with dismissal or legal action over what they report.

In 1999 two Canadian investigative reporters were silenced and then fired when they attempted to report the detrimental effect that human-growth hormone used by dairy producers was having on the public health. They were instructed by management to pull a story revealing research linking HGH with cancer and growth abnormalities in children by million dollar advertising Monsanto corporation. Not only were the journos sacked, but also the scientists who worked for the corporation who did the study. HGH for use in dairy cows was subsequently banned. [4]

When media organisations stoop to self-censorship in order to protect a financial base, the perceived threat to the organisations continuance is thought by those making that decision to outweigh the public good of revealing controversial information.

Many media organisations go one step further (or several depending on your point of view) to actually begin reporting public relations information from corporate press releases as news, or using pre-packaged video news releases or audio sent to them by corporations or government without disclosing them as such. The problem has become so rife that public advocacy group the Centre for Media and Democracy established a yearly prize for the most blatant uses of corporate propaganda as news, called the “Falsies”. [5]

Perhaps the worst of these transgressions of public trust is when media organisations receive money from organisations with the express intention that they will promote or show in a good light the goods, services or activities of the corporation. This problem was highlighted in the “cash for comment” scandal in the late ninties when it was revealed the radio shock-jocks Alan Jones and John Laws were receiving money for shameless promotions of the banking industry under the guise of impartiality.

On top of these pressures, often governments in so-called democracies make a point of scolding the media for their truth-telling. In 2007 journalists in the US were told by the White House that they needed to “be careful” what they say and during the 2008 US election conservative candidate Sarah Palin said freedom of the press is a “privilege” that the media “abuse.” This in a country that has free speech ensconsed in it’s constitution.

Under these conditions it is little wonder that many journalists self-censor as a means of self-preservation. While it’s common and ok to self-censor in everyday conversation to prevent harming people unintentionally, there nothing more harmful to a media working for the public good than for journalists to so internalise the demands put on them by governments, employers and polite deference to the majority opinion that they are not honest in their news reporting.

It is little wonder that journalists are near the top of the general publics list of untrustworthy professionals.

US newsman Dan Rather, in accepting an award for journalistic integrity in 2008 said in his acceptance speech:

"Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side.” When we bury the truth, we do not bury consequences. We only stand in the way of the… people. We keep this government of, by, and for the people from working as it should. And when we are complicit in burying the truth, we need to know well that we are also complicit in burying ourselves."

Hear, hear.

Do YOU self-censor: take this test to see http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/ahayes/wtsc.htm

Further reading:

links to references here: http://kimkaos.nomasters.org


"It was inspired by the latest of many attempts by mining companies and their cronies to silence my reporting on community radio 4ZzZ102.1fm"

I understand that you self censored reference specifically to this in the story, but what was all that about? Can you elaborate at all on what those attempts were and how it was done?

Hi Megan,

I'd like to, but protocol tells me no.

Suffice to say that mining companies like Rio Tinto sponsor a large number of community activities, including in the arts. At the same time they are still connected to many human rights and environmental abuses and the subject of protests by people's whose lands are exploited by them. It is to these people that they often give money and thereby greenwash themselves, or in some cases it could be called blackwash.

IMO no community should have to give up their sovereignty and land to get basic services like schools, hospitals and pools, but the govt lets some communities down so badly that exploitative mining companies are all that's left.

For a great expose of how RT in particular divides communities read Mike Barker's article here:


thanks for reading!

Thank You for writing the story here. [I am actually reading the links too]

I find it interesting since about 45 years to see all the "Orwellian" and "Huxleyan" elements merging to ever more totalitarian corporate rule while living on several continents for extended periods during my life.

Today we are looking at the merging of copyright battles with infringement notices to IP addresses, online content being "gated" for pay [the New York Times and Rupert of course], and then Government "filtering" the whole net for Australians.
Regulating the infra-structure into fast, wide pipes, and cheaper slow lanes of traffic, interfering with net-neutrality is the less visible side of "double speak, chemical-emotional controlled subservience"... and the ursurpation of the language by crazy terms such as..."in the long term" [there is no more longterm], or "paying off national debt" [an impossibility], or oxymorons such as "labor-saving devices", meaning cost cutting and job destroying inventions.
And of course the new speak of the intangible world of plagiarism from everyone around since over 300 years and then calling that "authentic, original material" deserving copyright law protection...WHAT ?!?

I hope more people take up all these issues, see the connections and purpose, and REJECT it.