The New York Times ran an article this past Saturday, “Voices From Above Silence a Cable TV Feud”, about how GE and NewsCorp enforced a kind of “cease-fire” – otherwise known as corporate censorship – on MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.
While I’ve always found the battle between Olberman and O’Reilly to be exhausting (though admittedly entertaining), the real story here is not about them. It’s about how much power parent companies can and do exercise over content on major news outlets like NBC and Fox, particularly when they feel their own interests are threatened.
The frightening thing is the chilling effect this has within these news organizations. Imagine the pressure this puts on reporters to avoid stories that conflict with their parent companies’ commercial interests. Beyond that, there is pressure to avoid any controversy they may create for their parent companies, or oddly enough, for their parent companies’ rivals.
As some have suggested, corporate-sponsored journalism may just be the inevitable wave of the future. Perhaps it already is, but the bottom line is that these news outlets have the responsibility to report stories that are in the public’s interest instead of their parent company’s (particularly when they use public airwaves), and to disclose their relationship with these companies so we know what news we’re getting, and more importantly, what news we’re not.
Not that this kind of corporate censorship is anything new, as Glen Greenwald from Salon and David Sirota from OpenLeft remind us. They review the fallout from this incident quite thoroughly, but I want to see MSNBC or Fox cover this story. However, we know that won’t happen, so until then enjoy your censored news brought to you by GE kitchen refrigerators and this guy.