Monday, November 27

2006 in Review: Bush Administration Represses US Investigative Journalism, Replaces it with “Covert Propaganda”

US slips from 17th to 53rd in press freedom internationally in five years as White House taps taxpayers for $1.6 billion in waging illegal “covert propaganda” media war

Each May since 2002, Reporters Without Borders publishes its 50-point criteria ”Press Freedom Index” assessing investigative journalism’s health status in countries around the world. According to the Paris-based group’s 2006 rankings of 168 countries, Finland, Iceland and Ireland top the list in informational access and treatment of its journalists.

But since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, the US—joining France, Japan, Germany, Canada and UK—continues its steady slide into the rabbit hole of active and covert media censorship. In RWB’s press release accompanying its 2006 rankings, the organization wrote:

“The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.”

The US federal judiciary’s attack on America’s First Amendment press freedoms ironically coincide with the government’s own increasing reliance on tax-payer funded “covert propaganda,” a practice the Government Accountability Office ruled as illegal. In February 2006, the GAO reported that over a 30-month period from 2003-2005, “the Bush administration spent $1.6 billion for public relations and media contracts.”

Subsequent inquiries revealed prominent African-American media darling Armstrong Williams obtained one of those contracts to sereptiously promote Bush’s increasingly problematic “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2002. Nonetheless, Air America radio network, the putative “progressive” alternative to right-wing dominated talk show industry that filed for bankruptcy on 13 September, revealed before the November elections it was hiring Williams as a talk show host.

Related: Reporters Without Borders offers citizen journalists a free online 46-page writing guide titled Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents. Chapter 1 is titled “Bloggers, the new heralds for free expression.”

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