The Fight for Free Speech: Corporate Sell-Outs and Political Censorship

It’s a scary world for an independent journalist. On one hand, the internet has shaken up the journalistic establishment, shifting resources back into the hands of citizens so that in today’s day and age (it’s said) anyone can be a journalist. For some, this notion is exciting and I’d agree with them. Citizen journalism and blogs are what have brought us WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald as well as coverage that can be seen in Mother Jones or Democracy Now! who rely on tips and footage from their readers.

But, there’s a counter movement to re-assert the idea of a professional journalist and both the political and corporate establishment are seeking to trivialize bloggers and citizen journalists. Sarah Lazare argues in a piece for Common Dreams that Senator Diana Feinstein (who it’s worth noting has significant stakes in the surveillance industry) is trying to define a journalist but identifying those at Wikileaks as “flawed.”:

“The world has changed. We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that,” said Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y). “But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill.”

It’s dangerous to draw such moral lines between “real” journalism and “flawed” journalism, especially when we know that Wikileaks has revealed heaps of information pertinent to the American public about government deception. We cannot simply cast aside these revelations as “flawed” because they paint power structures in a negative light.

But this repression is not only in the political sphere. Indeed, corporations play their role as well. Take for instance, the Huffington Post which was once hailed as a beacon for independent journalists. The online news collective pioneered in independent ownership and citizen reporting, but as Guardian’s Paul Harris reports, Ariana Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL, and that raises many new concerns about the quality of their coverage:

But not so much now, especially after Huffington said she had always envisioned the HuffPo as more than just a politics website and said it had no overall ideology. To many observers that seemed like a deliberate rewriting of the past, and certainly a strong suggestion that AOL’s corporate ownership would see it tone down the site’s liberal campaigning.

Something is lost when an independent voice becomes dominated by corporate interest, and the Huffington Post isn’t the only example of this. In Hartford the mainstream daily worked tirelessly to buy up it’s alternative competitors in an attempt to restrict the dialogue again.

It’s troubling in a nation that touts in independent press and diversity of opinion that we are still trying to belittle the idea of citizen journalism. Whether it’s through the political sphere and trying to define a “real” journalist, or corporations using their resources to simply buy out and silence differing coverage, we need alternative voices more than ever.

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