By Thomas Jackson
The question of censorship, or more specifically, censorship of news and media has long been a subject of great debate. Many advocate for or defend the concept of keeping information from the masses for various reasons, some of which are logical. There is a constant code followed by most main forms of media that censors offensive or grotesque material for the sake of the viewer, but there are other examples of more malignant and sinister censorship. in some cases, it is a matter of national security; control of information vital to activities that would become compromised if a foreign government or group should learn and act upon it. But in other times it is more a matter of controlling and ensuring the docility of a populace by withholding facts or stories that could inflame and incite public protest or civil unrest. Corporations, too, have been known to withhold information from the general public for their own gain. Reports of cyber attacks or great losses that would do great damage to the value of the corporation often are withheld to prevent an investor panic.
Through all these forms a common thread begins to emerge: controlling the reaction of a group of people to a piece of information by hiding it. This is not a new tactic or pattern of behavior. It has been practiced in countless examples throughout history as well as in contemporary times. The truth is that our perception of the world is surrounded and shaped by a web of fragile lies and misconceptions pushed by the society in which we live. According to http://www.Freepress.net, a watch-dog organization opposed to conglomeration of the media, over 90% of all media in America is owned by only six corporations.
In 1971, the New York Times obtained classified documents regarding american involvement in Eastern Asia. At the time it was believed that the American action in the region had been limited to Vietnam. These documents, dubbed “the Pentagon Papers”, presented a different story. They discussed Harry S. Truman’s support of the French Colonial-military effort against Ho Chi Minh’s rebels who fought for an independent Vietnam, years before there was ever talk of any US involvement in the area. Furthermore, they showed that the American public had been knowingly lied to about the extent of the activity in the region. The US had been executing covert actions and bombing attacks in both Laos and Cambodia, out of the sight of the public and beyond any effective accountability.
The government’s reaction was swift. After the New York Times refused to voluntarily cease publication, the Attorney General filed a restraining order to first the New York Times, and soon the Washington Post after it also began reporting on the case. It was one of the more notable instances of censorship in the 20th century, and it quickly rose through the federal judicial system until it reached the Supreme Court. In one of the most important freedom-of-speech decisions ever passed down from the Nine-in-Black, a six-to-three decision found that the New York Times was free to continue publication. In this case, the key motivators behind the attempted censorship were Secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Attorney General John Mitchell. However, the focus here is not on the victory that struck down the instance of governmental censorship. One must examine the causes and motivations behind such a case to gain a true understanding of the purpose of censorship. In this example of censorship, the New York Times was silenced to cease erosion of support for the Vietnam War effort, stop the widening of the credibility gap between the people and the government, and to prevent public outrage and unrest. H.R. Haldeman said to President Nixon on an audio recording, informing the president of dangers the articles posed if they were published freely:
“But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: [unclear] you can’t trust the government; you can’t [unclear] you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”
The effort to silence the news on such information is a textbook example of political censorship: the retention of information that is deemed inflammatory, embarrassing, or harmful to the ruling faction. But it is important, perhaps essential, to note that this is not the only form of censorship. Another kind of censorship and one that is simultaneously more prominent and yet goes more unnoticed is the suppression of information harmful to corporate interests, that is to say that, information that may lessen the value of the corporation or company is retained. Corporate censorship is interesting, as there is little to no legal obligation for these companies to not censor themselves or retain harmful information. In the US constitution, the first amendment totally prohibits the government from practicing any form of censorship. However, as financial enterprises ( and in some cases, multinational conglomerates) corporations are free of these restrictions. With no allegiance or responsibility to anyone but their shareholders, these corporations are free to speak or act as they see fit.
Often when a corporation is attacked electronically, they are slow to release information about the attack, including details of the damage. In some cases, it is because they take time to asses the extent of the attack, in others it is to prevent a loss of faith in the company. For example, in July 2013, the banking giant JP Morgan/Chase was attacked and personal information of nearly half a million corporate and government clients was stolen from their data banks. The bank issued warnings- in early December of that year, nearly five months after the attack had taken place. The company claimed ignorance, that they had only discovered that their servers had been breached in September of that year, which only raises questions about the competence of the conglomerate’s security. J.P Morgan/Chase is estimated to be the second largest bank in America, and such weaknesses would do little to instil faith in the giant.
If one takes into account, however, J.P. Morgan’s FY 2013 Q3 report, in which the attacks happened, the company posted its first losses since 2004. While revenue was up, their stock prices fell $0.17 per share. While not drastic, it is feasible that the company failed to properly analyze or “discover” the intrusion until the end of Q3 to prevent further losses, announcing the bad news only well into Q4 of that year. If such a cover-up took place, it is highly probable that it would involve the security of the company, as well as several members in executive positions, although the companies’ personnel files are not available to the public, making exact names hard to pinpoint.
Censorship in America is hard to pinpoint, because as a culture, we place great emphasis on our ability to speak freely. Any promotion of censorship is socially frowned upon, especially by members of our government. While corporations are not legally bound to prevent censorship, it is true that many stories that deserve coverage and attention by mainstream sources are denied such coverage and must garner attention elsewhere, such as independent sources on the internet or through social networking. In the words of Anti-Flag, “Just take a look around the world and you’ll find that nearly all mass media are owned and controlled by a handful of conservative capitalists.” Upper-class, white executives who control our perception of the world. Their ulterior motives should be obvious: the suppression of any alternative world view than the narrative that they have spun since European colonization and imperialism first began, including the prevalence of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia that permeates our society. We must take note of this bias in our media, that it is not simply limited to the far off and seemingly distant dictatorial regimes of foreign nations, but does exist within our daily lives.