How media censorship stifles the truth
Whether or not the obtainment and leaking of information is on the correct side of the law, as exemplified recently by the global entities of Anonymous and WikiLeaks, has been disputed. It should be a concern that these groups are beingtargeted in a 1984-like style because of their work in exposing inside governmental information.
Anonymous started on 4chan and expanded to the online collective we know today, working through organized yet unidentified hacking to protest controversial governmental actions such as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). WikiLeaks is another organization that takes information from leaked sources and releases them to the public. Internet activist and Australia native Julian Assange founded the website in 2006. It has since made front-page news thanks to its mass release of government documents and footage from the Afghan and Iraqi wars.
Lost in the maelstrom of the Republican primary election, WikiLeaks’ current actions have slipped under the news radar, but the controversy behind their previous leaks still rages on. In December of 2011, Anonymous hacked into the servers of Stratfor, a global intelligence company, and released over five million emails to WikiLeaks.
Assange is not the only person associated with WikiLeaks who has been incarcerated for exposing classified information. Private Bradley Manning has been in prison since May 2010 after being accused of leaking over 700,000 classified U.S. military documents and video clips. If found guilty of the 22 counts on which he is charged, including aiding the enemy, Manning could face life in prison. Though defense attorneys claim that the leaked information did not affect national security, the prosecution rests on the basis that Manning’s submission of information to the WikiLeaks website assisted the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
Censorship is not limited to matters in the United States though. Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni reporter, started an investigation of the war in Yemen after a December 2009 attack killed 34 al-Qaeda members. However, once he discovered it was a U.S.-initiated attack and no al-Qaeda members were knowingly killed, he was sentenced because he exposed the lies in the story. Because the Yemeni government had made up the case against him, Shaye was only sentenced to five years in prison, though Yemeni President Saleh’s plan to pardon him was rejected by the U.S. government.
While some may justify the punishment of these people for the greater good, the governments responsible for condemning these people are in fact just persecuting fundamentally sound investigative journalism. The Stratfor leaks have revealed what could possibly be illegal collusion between the firm and government agencies, and Shaye uncovered not only a lie in war reporting but also a war atrocity.
The First Amendment is supposedly an integral part of functioning American society, yet those who expose the truth are punished for doing what they are trained and taught to do. In fact, because of the corporate influence on the media, journalists are being forced to censor their own work.
This type of selective media coverage is neither new to the United States nor unique. Skepticism persisted through the coverage of the Watergate scandal, and Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times was not unlike a historical precursor to Manning’s release to WikiLeaks. The Sydney Peace Foundation even commended Assange’s “exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights.” However, after these exposés have turned out to be true, the United States continues to put up an overzealous defense against stories and journalists that could potentially evolve into another exposé.
The punishments of Assange, Manning, Shaye and many others is an indication that even the most seasoned journalist will instinctively fear for their work. Anyone who steps outside the box can and will be arbitrarily censored, even if his or her work is completely accurate. Matters of utmost importance may be kept from the public if they do not coincide with what a given government may want to expose. These implications may seem Orwellian, but just as Newspeak (the fictional language in 1984) eliminated any way to communicate possible discord, media censorship enables the government to essentially perform the same task.
Despite this totalitarian view of the future, there is hope for the media industry.
“The role of journalism is more important than ever,” said Stephen Tropiano, professor and director of the Ithaca College Los Angeles Program, explaining that work such as Shaye’s is “exactly what journalism should be doing.” With the inclusion of the Internet, it is also not only much easier to access information but also much easier to disseminate that information to a larger group of people in a more timely fashion.
If anything, the controversy behind the recent leaks is fueling the desire and curiosity to delve deeper and uncover even more because it is a part of the journalist personality.
“It’s all of our obligation to try to get to the truth,” said Steven Ginsberg, professor at the Ithaca College Los Angeles Program and former reporter for Variety.
“You can’t stop the truth from getting out.”
Amanda Hutchinson is a freshman journalism major who believes people should not be afraid of their governments, but rather governments should be afraid of their people. Email her at ahutchi2[at]ithaca[dot]edu.