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US journalists are self-censoring their work

By Brendon Bosworth

This year, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents about digital spying, we’ve come to learn that big brother is definitely watching. As revelations about the National Security Agency and the US’s massive digital spying regime continue to surface it’s become increasingly clear that the majority of digital communications are anything but private.

A common analogy is that one should now think of emails as “postcards” that can be read by anyone instead of letters sealed in envelopes that only the recipient can view.

The reality of digital surveillance and its scope is starting to hit American writers who, according to a new report by PEN America, are beginning to censor themselves, either through being reluctant to write about certain topics or being reluctant to contact sources they believe they will put in danger.

As the report (based on a survey of 520 writers) highlights, 1 in 6 of the writers surveyed avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance. Writers reported self-censoring on subjects “including military affairs, the Middle-East, North Africa region, mass incarceration, drug policies, pornography, the Occupy movement, the study of certain languages, and criticism of the US government.”

One respondent explained how the extra precautions taken to protect sources, like meeting in person instead of talking over the phone, “remind me of my days as Moscow bureau chief of [a major news outlet] under Communism, when to communicate with dissidents and refuseniks we had to avoid substantive phone conversations, meet in person in public, etc”.

Censorship strangles intellectual thought and limits oppositional viewpoints. When journalists and writers start to steer clear of difficult topics, either for fear of their own safety or that of their sources, public understanding suffers.

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  • 5 Responses to “US journalists are self-censoring their work”

    1. Comrade Koos #

      Rule by fear is alive and well. But rule by fear never lasts indefinitely. Something blows.

      November 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm
    2. Joseph Coates #

      Blown me away by your article. One would think that America is a very democratic country. Something is brewing. Has freedom of speech being censored regardless of which national you are. Sounds familiar to our recent “secrecy bill” that has been “postponed” due to resistance by our journalists and alike.
      Remember: words, paint a different picture to different readers, and how it is put across to the public out there. Also journalists are voicing their opinion and writers are
      using their creativity to keep the reader interested in the book, or topic that is been written. Should this be taken away, heaven, help us all, we, would become like the
      generations of the past. Eish, as it is said locally.

      November 29, 2013 at 9:35 am
    3. george orwell #

      ‘Tthe bastion of freedom and democracy’ is not what it once was.

      Liberals were taken in when the politically correct, charming Obama replaced G. Bush.

      Obama has gotten away with things Bush never would have – because America’s liberals gave Obama a free pass – seduced by a narrative of “Hope’ and “Change’.

      They allowed him to sneak the NDA Act through on New Year’s Eve 2011, while they were swilling pina coladas. The NDAA allows for “DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL”. Ringe any bells for South Africans familiar with the apartheid era?

      They’ve allowed him to go after more whistle-blowers than all previous presidents combined, as Pentagon Papers’ whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg documents. Bradley Manning’s in jail and Ed Snowden, who bravely revealed NSA’s spying tentacles in Google and Facebook, is hiding in Moscow, terrified of returning to jail in USA.

      America’s journo’s self censor lest they are villified like Glen Greenwald or Assange.

      The US media is in the hands of six huge conglomerates, representing Wall Street interests. Remember Obama bailed out Wall St, which funded his political campaign? Hardly a ‘man of the people’ but rather a well-heeled establishment fella.

      Some of America’s best journalists are now seen on “Russia Today’ TV: Peter Lavelle, Abby Martin, Thom Hartman. US best investigate journo’s are either jailed, in exile, at foreign media or only available on the ‘net.

      Read ‘Information Clearing House’ for news you…

      November 29, 2013 at 7:18 pm
    4. Patrick Henry #

      The military has been involved in U.S. media for over 60 years. These days with FOX news spreading propaganda worldwide we are all at risk. Journalist’s that do not tow the line end up working on smaller and smaller stories until their career tanks. The model is to place military stooges in the top positions so they can watch their underlings and manipulate the playing field.
      The Carlyle group and others like it are buying up media and movie houses to make sure that they get the wars they need when they need them.

      November 30, 2013 at 6:58 am
    5. george orwell #

      @ Patrick, I gather you are talking about ‘Operation Mockingbird’, partly exposed by Carl Bernstein.

      More recently, a couple of CNN interns were exposed as military cadets from the military information propaganda unit.

      Seems preposterous. But think back to the apartheid era and the ‘Information Scandal’.

      Propaganda chief Dr Eschel Rhoodie had a budget of millions to push pro-bantustan propaganda abroad and set up ‘front’ publications and magazines to push the state’s message. He understood, as Nazi Germany’s Goebbels did, that you need to ‘win hearts and minds’ via domestic and international propaganda.

      Read ‘Project Censored’, a site (and books) led by Prof Peter Phillips of Sonoma University, which tries to keep track of what Amercan hacks *fail* to cover.

      George Orwell reckoned the lie of *omission* – ie. what is *not* said – is the worst lie of all.

      The US has been waging resource wars for over a decade and wouldn’t have been able to market and sell the project without the uncritical stenography of mainstream corporate media.

      November 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

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