Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Whither freedom of the American press

By Hua Sheng ( Updated: 2014-11-14 15:59

The United States has prided itself on freedom of expression (or freedom of the press), but several signs show that the American administration and the corporate-owned US media have compromised this freedom.

One such indication is the growing public distrust in the US media. About 60 percent of the respondents to a Gallup poll on Americans' trust in the media to report "the news fully, accurately and fairly" in September said they either did "not (have) very much" trust or no trust "at all" in the media.

Most of the mainstream US media outlets, which are now controlled by big corporations, have been criticized for not reporting news events such as the Occupy Wall Street movement across major US cities three years ago, largely because it was directed against Wall Street and corporate America.

Major US news organizations have also collaborated with the US government to hide vital information from the public. In 2011, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Associated Press intentionally lied about the identity of Central Intelligence Agency contractor Raymond Allen Davis, who was accused of murder in Pakistan, at the request of the US administration. They admitted their double standards only after the UK-based The Guardian exposed their lie.

Every year, Project Censored, based at Sonoma State University in California, publishes a book on the news stories omitted or censored, often by major US news organizations. The list is huge.

While news organizations have increasingly compromised their principles, the US administration has increased its intervention in their day-to-day functioning despite the First Amendment of the US Constitution stating that freedom of the press should be protected.

In May 2013, it was revealed that the US Justice Department had been secretly tapping the phones of about 100 AP reporters for a month as part of a sweeping surveillance campaign. Worse, The New York Times investigative journalist James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing unwarranted wiretapping of American citizens by the National Security Agency, has been told by the US administration to either reveal his sources or go to jail. In his book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Risen has exposed numerous CIA activities.

At a conference in March this year, Risen described the Barack Obama administration as "the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation". The Obama administration is also seeking the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who in 2010 published US military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, a US soldier who was sentenced to 35 years in prison last year. Assange has been forced to seek asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 to avoid being deported to the US.

Along with the efforts to gag the media, a concerted effort is on in the US, especially in Congress, to spread fear about the Chinese media. The House of Representatives has held several hearings on the subject, and even threatened to restrict the number of Chinese journalists in the US.

Moreover, foreign journalists are often treated as second-class citizens at US government press conferences such as those held at the White House or the State Department. And more often than not they have to wait with their questions until American journalists finish with theirs. Is this the freedom of press the US prides it self on?

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