Project Censored celebrates 40 years as media watchdog
The media landscape has changed dramatically since the late Carl Jensen founded Project Censored at Sonoma State University 40 years ago - a fact not lost on the group’s current leaders, who are hosting a national summit on campus this weekend.
The rise of the internet, along with the decline of print advertising revenue and circulation numbers, has forever altered the face of what the group calls the “corporate media.” But all of that change has not stopped Project Censored from continually trying to shine a light on stories ignored or insufficiently covered by establishment news sources.
To that end, the group produces an annual list of the top 25 most censored and under-reported news stories. Students and faculty have created a similar list since Project Censored was founded in 1976, and in recent years, the group has expanded its work beyond Sonoma State to encompass other colleges and universities across the country.
The group’s work has also expanded even further recently with the 2015 launch of the Global Critical Media Literacy Project, a higher education-focused initiative Project Censored helped create to teach students how to critically evaluate news sources and raise awareness of media censorship worldwide.
That effort has already produced an approximately 100-page resource guide for instructors, and it’s in keeping with Project Censored’s larger educational goals.
“What we’re interested in doing is teaching people how to think critically about news media. We’re not interested in telling people what to think. We’re interested in people having the tools to do it themselves, because that is the essential component of being an effective, self-governing society,” said Mickey Huff, the director of Project Censored.
Project Censored’s work is coming into focus Friday and Saturday at Sonoma State, where the group is hosting a national “media freedom summit” and 40th anniversary celebration. Huff, a Diablo Valley College professor who lives in Petaluma, said about 100 people had already signed up for the summit, and he was expecting more to show up at the door.
The summit’s agenda includes sessions with titles such as “Can Human Freedom and Dignity Survive in an Age of Rampant Government Surveillance and Unprecedented Corporate Control of Communication?” and “21st Century Media and the First Amendment: Who counts as a journalist?” Friday night’s anniversary celebration will include music and a roundtable discussion about media freedom and independent journalism, according to the agenda.
This year’s list of the top 25 most censored stories of 2015-2016 also will be highlighted. Topping the list this year are stories about U.S. military forces reportedly being deployed in 70 percent of the world’s nations and a so-called “crisis in evidence-based medicine.”
Peter Phillips, the former director of Project Censored, said such issues are “significant things” that citizens in a democracy deserve to know about.
Phillips took over as director from Jensen, a Sonoma State professor and media watchdog, in 1996, and Huff took the reins in 2010. But Phillips still serves as president of the Media Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit created by him and Jensen that oversees Project Censored.
“We’re not dependent upon a single big foundation for money,” Phillips said. “Our philosophy has always been: Get by as best you can and make it stable, so that you’re not in debt and running a staff that you can’t afford.”
Project Censored has endured its fair share of criticism in the past. A 2000 article on AlterNet, for example, said the group was “flawed in its process to begin with” and tended to “reinforce fundamentally self-marginalizing, defeatist behavior while ignoring the role new media is playing in communicating information.” The group has also been criticized for giving a platform to questions about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Yet Rick Luttmann, a professor emeritus in Sonoma State’s mathematics department who worked with Project Censored for about 20 years, said the group played an important role and Jensen’s original critique of corporate news still rang true.
“Not just the print media, but the electronic media as well, tend to focus on stories that really aren’t very important - the price of hot dogs at Candlestick Park, for example,” Luttmann said. “And yet, very important stuff that people need to know for democracy to function (is) not emphasized enough. I think it’s very important for them to continue doing what they’re doing.”
Registration for the whole summit weekend costs $150, or $40 for only the Friday night festivities and panel discussion. Students with valid college IDs can attend the event for free.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter ?@thejdmorris.