ASJA First Amendment Committee condemns "Censorship by Proxy"

The Walt Disney Company has announced that it will block its Miramax division from distributing Michael Moore’s latest documentary — a film that reportedly criticizes President George W. Bush in harsh terms. This decision follows closely on the heels of one made by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns seven ABC television affiliates, to bar Nightline’s April 30, 2004 broadcast on its stations of the names and faces of soldiers who died in the Iraq conflict.

The First Amendment committee of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the nation’s pre-eminent organization of freelance non-fiction writers, condemns what appears to be a corrosive trend in our society — censorship of the media by the corporate entities that control the media.

In January of this year, CBS declined to air a television commercial during the Super Bowl that was produced by the political activist organization, MoveOn. The commercial was a commentary on perceived flaws in the current administration’s economic policies.

In February, radio conglomerate Clear Channel, dropped the Howard Stern Show from its radio stations in what Stern claimed was a politically motivated act spurred by Stern’s condemnation of actions by the Bush administration.

Although all these incidents are troubling, Sinclair’s refusal to air the names and faces of the military men and women who paid with their lives for the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq is perhaps the least defensible. The CEO of the media giant is quoted on Sinclair’s website, in part, as stating: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position.”

Millions of Americans rely solely or primarily on television and radio for news and information. Corporate controllers of broadcast media are the gatekeepers of that news and information. The public’s right to know is being eroded by corporate owners of media who use their immense clout to restrict the public’s access to information. Whether the censorship occurs because of a false sense of patriotism that permits the broadcast of only favorable news, or whether the censorship arises from a desire to advance the corporation’s political and economic agenda, it is a dangerous trend.

When the corporate owners of media restrict information unfavorable to the government, for whatever reason, what we get is government censorship by proxy.

Anita Bartholomew, for the First Amendment committee of ASJA