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Killing Free Speech: the Nexus of Corporate Takeover, Censoring Dissenters and Consumer Complicity

I attended an event yesterday sponsored by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) about the state of the news industry and how money is eradicating the profession of journalism and the notion of a free press. When a friend forwarded the invite to me last week, I was immediately drawn and RSVP’d. The event featured a panel of experts and professionals in the field of journalism and media and the discussion centered on the perils of media concentration and how plutocrats are leveraging their wealth in order to dictate news.

I found the symposium to be very enlightening, yet I would be remiss if I did not point out one area where I felt a tinge of exasperation during the conversation. While I understand the event was sponsored by a group that focuses on international media, for long stretches of the discussion, the talk centered on the paradigm of a free press under assault in foreign lands. It’s simplistic to present the dangers faced by journalists in extreme fashions where reporters like Daniel Pearl and Anna Politkovskaya are summarily killed for seeking truth and reporting news. I don’t say this to diminish these threats faced by reporters and media outlets. I am from Ethiopia, a land where journalists are often harassed, tortured and killed for daring to question authority and having the temerity to stand for justice.

Yet these issues of speech and a methodical undermining of a free press don’t just occur in far off lands. In less exotic forms, and by ways of subterfuge and hidden tactics, the notion of a free press is being eradicated right here in America and throughout Western societies. Plutocrats have made it their purpose to buy up one media outlet after another—often deploying loss-leader strategy—to effectively demolish the first amendment. I’m not writing this as hyperbole; more than 90% of the information that Americans consume is now in the hands of six companies [read Illusion of Choice]. Think about this for a minute, all but one tenth of the information that we use to inform our decisions, determine our votes, enact policies and drive public discussions is directly controlled by the six people who own GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.

Yet even this “horror fact” is misleading. When you layer on top social media Goliath corporations the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple—who act as gatekeepers of information that the six companies control mentioned in the previous paragraph—what we get is a corporate landscape where news is dictated by a corporate duopoly of content providers and media gatekeepers. Not content with total monopoly, corporations—in concert with their lackeys in the political and punditry class—have initiated a concerted effort to wipe away any and all voices who diverge from the corporate and government line. What tin pot dictators in developing nations do to independent journalists with bullets and prisons, plutocrats and moneyed interests do the same to media voices who don’t toe the company line with more subtle forms of coercion and suppression.

I talked about this with Lee Camp, the host of Redacted Tonight, when he had me on his show to discuss the threat to Democracy that corporate media represents [see YouTube video below]. I asked him recently about the stark choices journalists face when deciding between principles and pragmatism. Lee noted:

“Journalists will ultimately say what is acceptable to advertisers (i.e. corporate America). If they do, they’ll be promoted. If they don’t, they will eventually be pushed out. This means you end up with nothing but pro-corporate voices on corporate media outlets which control 90% of the airwaves.”

The “fourth estate” has always been the last line of defense between a free society and tyranny. There is a reason why the founders of America inserted protection of a free press in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Federalism, the concentration of power in the hands of a few, is a cancer that eats away at freedoms and gnaws away at liberty. Journalists were supposed to be the guardians of Democracy and the protectors of the public interest. By cunning and extortion, people who have amassed breathtaking power and affluence decided to weaponize their wealth in order to co-opt journalists and nullify all forms of accountability.These issues have real life implications. Wall Street gamblers kneecapped the US economy in 2008—along with the economy of the world—by implementing a systematic Ponzi scheme where they repackaged exotic derivatives and traded worthless loans. What Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan-Chase and their ilk embarked upon in the years leading up to the Great Recession was a criminal enterprise that made Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff look like Jesus by comparison. When their scheme eventually fell apart, instead of getting jail time and receiving punishment, these same crooks were rewarded with trillions in bailouts while the victims of their embezzling scams were told to kick rocks by the Obama administration. “The first black president” eventually exposed himself as nothing more than a brilliant branding campaign concocted by Wall Street public relations firms.

From the pan into the fire; we went from empty suit Obama who sold us to the wolves on Wall Street to the deranged Trump who is an entrenched member of the Wall Street cabal. The corporate media chattering class happily fan the flames of a president who has the petulance of an unruly adolescent and the leadership capacities of an infant. The term oligarchy is often used to describe how a few have commandeered all facets of public and private policy in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. The oligarchy in those nations have nothing on the sheer size and scope of power that oligarchs have in America and throughout Europe. In this atmosphere of pervasive corporatism, how are journalists supposed to speak truth to power when their livelihood and paychecks are being signed by the powerful? The expensive suits you see on TV and pushed by the cooperate media choose status over conscience. Paychecks makes slaves of many men.

What makes the repression of free speech so pernicious is the way an abundance of options is presented to us as freedom of choice. When the primary aim of journalism is maximizing profit and the secondary motivation is fidelity to ideology as a means to capture market share, truth becomes collateral damage. What you see abound in mainstream media outlets from TV to the internet are so called journalists who present news through the filter of partisan and political blinders. As long as they stay in their lanes and speak to certain audiences, these media personalities retain their status. This is why journalists who were mum for eight years of Obama droning around the world all the sudden found their courage once Trump was elected. Likewise, Fox News hounds who were outraged over Benghazi collectively swallowed their tongues when Trump had his own Benghazi in Niger. Situational morality is as pervasive in corporate media as commercial breaks and intrusive ads.

Those who refuse to play along and insist on standing against the corrosive influence of the oligarchy are greeted by exclusion and systematic silencing. Not only is their access to the Corporate State Media withdrawn and become persona non grata in the halls of power, they are further marginalized by an insidious form of censorship that is being undertaken by social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. The experience of Chris Hedges is a prime example of this. Hedges once worked at the New York Times, until he made the grave mistake of speaking against the Iraq War when the NY Times was busy banging war drums and paving the way for an illegal invasion. Hedges was unceremoniously shown the exit doors for having the temerity to act according to his job description and having the audacity to speak truth to power [read about Chris Hedges]. The internet was supposed to deliver a new age of openness and social media was to Democratize news, the complete opposite has occurred as social media corporations use key words and algorithms to suppress links and articles that are not affiliated with the big six media companies.

This is a view shared by fellow independent journalist Zach Haller, who is a self-funded writer at the Zach Haller Affair. When I asked him to describe the challenges that non-aligned journalists face in pursuing stories and publishing articles that run counter to corporate media narratives, Haller noted:

“In 2016 we saw the same blatant and corrupt favoritism for Clinton from big tech as we did from big banks and big media. Here on twitter, this amounted to anything from trend censorship to fending off harassment from paid agitators, the likes funded in the umbrella of the Democratic Party media and donor network. The ways Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech giants used their platforms to stifle dissent and protect a corrupt surveillance state showed Americans Orwell’s 1984 is basically here already. We need to fight to break up big tech as hard as we fight to break up big banks and big media.”

It is getting more and more impossible to people in authority accountable corporate media is busy running interference for those the very people they are supposed to be keeping in check. Not only is the mainstream media derelict in it’s duty to uphold freedoms and root out corruption, they are now complicit in marginalizing people who are trying to do the job of a “free press”.

To top it all off, we are constantly being social conditioning to accept accept only “official narratives” as the establishment have deviously used the term “fake news” to crucify and abrogate voices who dare to question authority. Sadly, a wide swath of society jumps aboard of these counterfactual memes. While we bemoan the state of mainstream media, we concurrently empower them by dismissing anyone who is not employed by corporate media as “fake news”. What you are reading now would go viral on social media if it was published by the New York Times. Yet because this article is being presented on an platform that is independent of corporate media, it will not get nearly the attention it would otherwise get if this was splashed on the Op/Ed section of the Washington Post or the Rolling Stone. Society only values what the “elites” deem valuable to our demise in this way. Let me wrap this up with a solution instead of lamenting the broken state of media before us. There are countless independent voices who make it their purpose to seek truth and speak power to truth. We can complain about the condition we find ourselves in and decry how a few have monopolized all levers of society and use their influence to determine policies and undermine freedom. But ultimately, the responsibility is on the consumer. We are not powerless to change our circumstances; we can bellyache from here to the next century or we can affect change.

We can either continue to depend on corporatism for all facets of our lives—as we turn to mega companies for everything from food, entertainment to news—or we can empower independent voices and community based enterprises. Instead of paying a subscription fee to corporate entities like the Washington Post, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, how about we invest in independent journalists. Likewise, we have the power of the media in our hands, how about we use social media to market ideas espoused by independent voices instead of peddling the sensational drivel that has become the mainstay of the Corporate State Media.

This is not to infer that people who pursue journalism have to be purists and by extension live a life of indigence. Yet those entrusted with such a vital responsibility should always put the interests of the public ahead of personal motives. My aim is not to paint all independent journalists as the scions of truth while casting all corporate media personalities as scoundrels. There are plenty of people who work in mainstream media who yearn to do good—the issue is the system more than it is the people. This is the same point Tim Black, a brilliant independent journalist from the Tim Black Show, makes:

“Money and journalism have no business being in the same vicinity unless you’re willing to take less money in order to maintain objectivity. What good is being independent if you allow the desire for a larger audience to dictate your point of view? You’d might as well be a Corporate media employee. Same difference.”

The issues we face are too important and the consequences too dire—we can’t let literally six people and corporate titans determine the direction of humanity. We are in a time no less terrifying than the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis yet we have somehow been socially medicated into a lethal mix of collective stupor and outrage. What seems like reality show entertainment very well could be distracting us while the unthinkable is potentially pixelating away from public awareness. We need a robust media more than ever to step into the breach before #MushroomClouds becomes the next trending news.

The choices are simple. If we continue down this path of concentrated wealth and federalized power, you can wave goodbye to the American dream and say hello to the repressive realities of regressing incomes, institutional corruption in DC and systematic larceny on Wall Street. The greatest threat to freedom after all are those who get to dictate what freedom is and likewise determine threats to be those who speak against their power. It is up to the people—the broader public and the consumers of news—to rebuke corporatism and entrust those who speak against consolidated power. #KillingFreeSpeech

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Check out this interview I conducted with Lee Camp on his show Redacted Tonight where we discussed the issues I oulined in this article and more. Follow Lee Camp on Twitter @LeeCamp 

There is a reason I disavow any and all forms of corporate money and advertisement at the Ghion Journal. Check out the Ghion Cast below where I detail the mission and purpose behind the Ghion Journal. 

Teodrose Fikremariam
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Teodrose Fikremariam

Writer at Ghion Journal
Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal.
Teodrose Fikremariam
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