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How Mainstream Media Evolved into Corporate Media: A Project Censored History

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How Mainstream Media Evolved into Corporate Media: A Project Censored History

How Mainstream Media Evolved into Corporate Media: A Project Censored History

Historically the term “mainstream media” referred to the largest media outlets in the United States. Numbering in the hundreds, these newspapers and broadcast media outlets collectively reached a majority of the public. That was certainly the case in 1976 when Carl Jensen founded Project Censored. His concern was that the mainstream press increasingly left out important news stories; and, with Project Censored student researchers, he began to produce annual reports of the most important news stories ignored by the mainstream media. From the original photocopied reports to the first of the Project’s yearbooks published in 1993, Project Censored referred to the US media collectively as the press, mass media, or mainstream media. In the Project’s 20th anniversary yearbook, Carl wrote, “The Censored Yearbook is published annually in response to a growing national demand for news and information not published nor broadcast by the mainstream media in America” [Jensen, “20 Years of Raking Muck, Raising Hell,” in Censored: The News That Didn’t Make the News—and Why(New York: Seven Stories Press, 1996), p. 9].

By Peter Phillips


This article appeared originally as Chapter 8 in Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion


In the 1980s two important analyses of how mainstream media was changing in the US transformed the study of media and communications. In 1982, when Ben Bagdikian completed research for his book, The Media Monopoly, he found that fifty corporations controlled at least half of the media business. By December 1986, when he finished revisions for the book’s second edition, the concentration of power had shifted from fifty corporations down to just 29. Bagdikian noted that 98 percent of the nation’s 1,700 daily newspapers were local monopolies, with fewer than fifteen corporations controlling most of the country’s print media.

The second major turning point in the evolution of media studies was the publication of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book, Manufacturing Consent, in 1988. Herman and Chomsky claimed that, because media is firmly imbedded in the market system, it reflected the class values and concerns of its owners and advertisers. They reported that the media maintains a corporate class bias through five systemic filters they referred to as the “Propaganda Model”: concentrated private ownership; a strict bottom-line profit orientation; overreliance on governmental and corporate sources for news; a primary tendency to avoid offending the powerful; and an almost religious worship of the market economy, strongly opposing alternative beliefs. These filters limit what becomes news in American society and set parameters on acceptable coverage of daily events.

In 1997, under my directorship and influenced by the research of Bagdikian, Herman, and Chomsky, Project Censored began to express the idea that mainstream media was in transition, becoming increasingly corporate and consolidated. In Censored 1997, Ivan Harsløf and I used the term “mainstream corporate media” to describe the continuing rapid consolidation of media in the US and the forms of censorship they imposed [Phillips and Harsløf, “Censorship within Modern, Democratic Societies,” in Censored 1997: The News That Didn’t Make the News (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997), pp. 139–58]. We cited Herbert Schiller’s concerns in Culture, Inc. regarding the corporate takeover of public expression through the internationalization of media.

The following year, in Censored 1998, we took a strong stance against self-censorship, especially when organizational cultures within corporate media bureaucracies influence journalists’ choices and coverage of specific news stories [Phillips, Bob Klose, Nicola Mazumdar, and Alix Jestron, “Self-Censorship and the Homogeneity of the Media Elite,” in Censored 1998: The News That Didn’t Make the News (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998), pp. 141–52].  In addition, we researched the interlocking directorships of the six major media organizations, finding that 81 corporate directors (89 percent of whom were male) also held 104 director positions on the boards of businesses identified as Fortune 1,000 corporations. It was becoming very clear that what we had called mainstream media no longer existed, having transformed into simply corporate media.

In Censored 1999 I wrote, “The US media has lost its diversity and ability to present different points of view . . . . Every corporate media outlet in the country spent hundreds of hours and yards of newsprint to cover Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades and in the process ignored many important news stories” [Phillips, “Building Media Democracy,” in Censored 1999: The News That Didn’t Make the News (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999), p. 129].  By the millennium, “mainstream” media had entirely disappeared from the US as far as Project Censored was concerned. In its place arose an increasingly concentrated, controlled, and propagandized corporate structure that had abandoned the time-honored commitment to inform and serve the American people. To illustrate the extent of the media’s corporate transformation, in Censored 2006 a team of Project Censored student interns from Sonoma State University identified 118 board members of ten major US media organizations, from newspaper to television to radio, and traced their direct ties to other corporate boards. Based on this network analysis, the team concluded that “[i]n corporate-dominated capitalism wealth concentration is the goal and the corporate media are the cheerleaders” [Bridget Thornton, Brit Walters, and Lori Rouse, “Corporate Media is Corporate America: Big Media Interlocks with Corporate America and Broadcast News Media Ownership Empires,” in Censored 2006: The Top 25 Censored Stories(New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), p. 246].

Today, after a dozen years of further consolidation, corporate media have become a monolithic power structure that serves the interests of empire, war, and capitalism. A chapter I co-authored with Ratonya Coffee, Robert Ramirez, Mary Schafer, and Nicole Tranchina for Censored 2017, titled “Selling Empire, War, and Capitalism: Public Relations Propaganda Firms in Service to the Transnational Capitalist Class,” laid bare how public relations propaganda, and corporate media more generally, work to promote capital growth as their primary goal through the “hegemonic psychological control of human desires, emotions, beliefs, and values” [Phillips, Coffee, Ramirez, Schafer, and Tranchina, “Selling Empire, War, and Capitalism: Public Relations Propaganda Firms in Service to the Transnational Capitalist Class,” in Censored 2017: Fortieth Anniversary Edition (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2016), p. 307].

For those of us interested in opposing the destructive agenda of empires of concentrated wealth, it’s clearly time to stop using the term “mainstream media” when “corporate media” is both more accurate and revealing.

Peter Phillips served as Project Censored director for fourteen years, from 1996 to 2010. He officially retired from Project Censored’s board of directors in 2018. He is a professor of political sociology at Sonoma State University. Seven Stories Press published his new book, Giants: The Global Power Elite, in August 2018.

Courtesy of Project Censored

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Energy and Transportation

New report details Big Polluters’ next Big Con

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Image: Vincent Go / Greenpeace

Amsterdam, 9 June 2021

In the midst of virtual discussions of the UN climate treaty, a new report shines a light on how polluting industries are pushing a “net zero” agenda to become  the presumed centrepiece of global climate plans and how the details in these plans (should any be included) delay action and don’t add up.

—The report is embedded at the bottom of this story.—

The report, entitled, “The Big Con: How Big Polluters are advancing a “net zero” climate agenda to delay, deceive, and deny,” comes following a year packed with record announcements of “net zero” pledges from corporations and governments, and builds on a growing body of research that calls the integrity of “net zero” as a political goal into serious question. As more and more “net zero” plans have been rolled out, the scientific, academic and activist communities have all raised grave concerns about the inability of these plans to achieve the commitments of the Paris Agreement and keep global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report, written by Corporate Accountability, The Global Forest Coalition and Friends of the Earth International, was endorsed by over sixty environmental organisations including ActionAid International, OilWatch, Third World Network, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The Big Con” joins a series of recent reports in uncovering the dubious arithmetic, vague targets and often unachievable technological aspirations of these “net zero” plans, analysing plans from a number of key polluting industries including the fossil fuel and energy, aviation, technology, retail, finance, and agriculture industries. It also includes an in-depth look at some of the strategies these industries have deployed to ensure their “net zero” agenda becomes the primary dogma of the global response to the climate crisis.

Some of the key findings highlighted in the report include:

The Plans:

  • By 2030, Shell alone plans to purchase more offsets to compensate for its emissions every year than were available in the entire global voluntary carbon offset market capacity in 2019.
  • United Airlines is counting on using a geoengineering technology that is not developed at any viable commercial scale to suck carbon out of the air and pump it into the ground (a process that is intended to extract even more oil in hard-to-reach places). If the same geoengineering plants were to be built to offset the world’s emissions in 2019, this would require 4 million acres of land—approximately the size of the country of Belize.
  • Walmart’s climate plan entirely neglects its value chain emissions, which account for an estimated 95 percent of the corporation’s carbon footprint.
  • Eni is planning on increasing its oil and gas production over the coming years, a feat that the corporation proposes to offset through reforestation schemes that have been described as fake forests.
  • BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has pledged to reach “net zero” emissions in its portfolio by 2050. But despite pledging in 2020 to sell off most of its fossil fuel shares “in the near future”, it still owns US$85 billion in coal assets due to a loophole in its policy.
  • JBS’ commitment to eliminate deforestation in its supply chain by 2035 in effect means it will continue contributing to deforestation for the next 14 years (until 2035), instead of immediately ending the deforestation associated with its supply chain—arguably one of the most effective and quickest ways for JBS to decrease its emissions.

The Tactics:

  • Big Polluters, including the aviation and fossil fuel industries lobbied massively to help ensure the passage of a tax credit in the US, called 45Q, that subsidises carbon capture and storage. Those same corporations are likely to have raked in millions from the credit, despite not having the right systems in place to qualify.
  • The International Emissions Trading Association, perhaps the largest global lobbyist on market and offsets (both pillars of polluters’ “net zero” climate plans”) has leveraged its outsized presence at international climate talks to advance its agenda over others.
  • Corporations have made massive financial contributions to renowned academic institutions including the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University and Imperial College London to shape and influence the type of “net zero” related research these institutions pursue.
  • In one example, Exxon Mobil retained the right to formally review research before it is completed and in some cases to plant its own staff on project development teams at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project.

The report was released in a press briefing during the virtual discussions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). UN Secretary General and the COP presidency, who are organisers of the next milestone in the UNFCCC process COP26, have already made “net zero” a primary focus despite a number of recent controversies including the recent backlash against Mark Carney’s initiative.

Quotes from authors:

Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International, Climate Justice & Energy program co-coordinator:

“This report shows that ‘net zero’ plans from big polluters are nothing more than a big con. The reality is that corporations like Shell have no interest in genuinely acting to solve the climate crisis by reducing their emissions from fossil fuels. They instead plan to continue business as usual while greenwashing their image with tree planting and offsetting schemes that can never ever make up for digging up and burning fossil fuels. We must wake up fast to the fact that we are falling for a trick. Net zero risks obscuring a lack of action until it is too late.”

Rachel Rose Jackson, Director of Climate Policy and Research, Corporate Accountability:

“After The Big Con, it’s hard not to see the recent fervour over ‘net zero’ as anything but a scheme propped up by Big Polluters that’s way too little, way too late,” said Rachel Rose Jackson of Corporate Accountability, “These players stacked the deck to make sure the world would hinge its hopes on plans that are nothing more than greenwashing. If we don’t course correct now, the world will be on the fast track to climate destruction incompatible with life as we know it.”

Coraina De la Plaza, Climate Campaigner, Global Forest Coalition:

We are deeply concerned about the corporate capture of climate policies and finance, and the growing nexus between governments and corporations to promote false solutions through Net Zero and ambiguous concepts like NBS. Instead of deep emissions cuts, they continue to pursue ‘green’ neocolonial offsetting schemes to reap more profits and pollute through forest offsets, afforestation, reforestation, tree plantations, and dangerous techno-fixes. This Net Zero circus has to stop: the planet and people need real and ambitious targets and commitments, real emissions cuts, and real zero targets.”

Quotes from endorsing organisations:

Meena Raman, Third World Network:

“As big polluters hide behind false claims of supporting climate action, they are planning to do more damage by pushing carbon offset projects in developing countries, leading to more forest and land grabs. Such efforts promote climate injustice and will impact the poor communities and indigenous peoples in the Global South. This has to stop.”

Pascoe Sabido, Researcher and Campaigner, Corporate Europe Observatory:

“Europe’s biggest fossil fuel companies are using their flimsy ‘net-zero’ plans to curry favour with our decision makers. But in exchange for their hollow commitments, Shell, BP and others have successfully lobbied for financial and regulatory support for techno-fixes like carbon capture and storage or fossil-hydrogen, which will allow them to dig up and sell yet more oil and gas. An utter climate catastrophe. Net zero is nothing more than a massive con, letting the EU and its polluting corporations to talk the talk while walking in the opposite direction.”

Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa:

“The Big Con” is not only timely, it also reinforces what we have been saying for years. The fossil fuel industry is not about to repent. Net Zero is a scam intended to keep us in a state of suspended animation while for the industry, it is business as usual.”

Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development:

“Proclamations of Net Zero targets are dangerous deceptions. Net Zero sounds ambitious and visionary but it actually allows big polluters and rich governments to continue emitting GHGs which they claim will be erased through unproven and dangerous technologies, carbon trading, and offsets that shift the burden of climate action to the Global South. Big polluters and rich governments should not only reduce emissions to Real Zero, they must pay reparations for the huge climate debt owed to the Global South.”

Trusha Reddy, Programme Head: Women Building Power for Energy & Climate Justice, WoMin African Alliance:

“Net Zero is just the latest attempt by corporates and colluding governments in the Global North to undermine real action on the climate crisis. It follows (and includes) decades of different variations of big cons from outright denial to carbon markets and a slew of other false solutions pushed out by public relations machines and strong arming of the big economies. What cannot be avoided, and is becoming a permanent reality are the cyclones, wildfires and a multitude of other climate related disasters impacting regions like Africa with the fiercest intensity. As our world gets pummelled by these forces, impacted women and others in the Global South are starting to make the connections, pierce the veil, demand climate justice, and rise up to claim real zero solutions.”

Source: Friends of the Earth International

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Arts

Chautauquas and Lyceums and TED Talks, oh my!

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Our future is in OUR Hands

We are aiming with Mobilized to create a vibrant forum for ideas.  “Big deal”, you might say, there are already places for that.

Well, you’re not wrong.  There was, in the earliest days of the web, a loose and wild forum called The Well.  The great and powerful Google had as it’s mission the goal of “bringing all the knowledge of the world to every person”… before it pivoted to a new goal of just making money off of what it knows about us.  That change was a real pity.  There have been sites such as Wiser Earth, which aimed to be a global directory of people and non-profit organizations so that collaboration could happen on a larger scale than ever before.  It lasted about two years, sadly; not long enough to create a legacy.  Huffington Post had a good run in its’ early days, sharing ideas widely and helping to boost its’ contributors in the public’s mind.

What’s important to know, is that as of this writing, there is not really a widely recognized forum online or in ‘meat-space’.  There are print publications such as YES! magazine, Tikkun, The Sun Magazine, and The Utne Reader, all of which which reach a population of hundreds thousands.  Great, but their reach could be even more broad, in my humble opinion.  Within social media sites there are plenty of good ‘groups’ but they also don’t reach enough folks outside of their own memberships.

Probably the most popular comparable live events right now are the TED talks, which do serve a valuable purpose.  Sadly, they also tend toward the ‘Gee-Whiz‘ and the ‘Shiny New Buzzword‘ in their contents.  Mobilized really wants to focus on the proven, the existing, and the hidden.  There are already, all over, groups doing wonderful work, but too many of them are laboring in obscurity.

So, how do we do that?  Well to begin with, we’re not trying to be a technology startup.  There is no secret sauce, no fancy algorithm at work here.  Almost all the underlying code behind Mobilized is made with off-the-shelf parts, such as WordPress.  There is zero reason to re-invent the wheel, and frankly the notion that one must do so has tripped up several earlier attempts at building a successful progressive community.  We take the approach of using the tools at hand to build our house.

Secondly, we are going into the future with an eye firmly on the past.  And that leads us to the point of this essay, a look at how America became America.  We can take many lessons from the past.  One of our best ideas as a nation was the Chautauqua movement.   It had it’s heyday from the 1870’s right up until the beginning of World War II.  In part, it helped spawn a Lyceum movement, the Vaudeville traditions in the theater world; and had an effect on the earliest days of the motion-picture industry.  Here’s why it was so popular: the average person, anywhere in the land, could go to a Chautauqua when it came to their town, and engage in spirited discussion with the brightest minds of the day.  It was direct, person-to-person, and offered a mix of local and national ideas and people; presented on a rotating basis.  So ideas could be hashed out and spread rapidly.  And they did.  In no small part due to these two movements, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were defeated.  The Great Depression was tackled too, and along the way no less than Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain became huge fans.  No part of society could, or wanted to, ignore the notion that average people could teach other average people.

Mobilized aims to help bring that back into common understanding.  In the present era, there may well be a place for tents and lecturers setting up in farmer’s fields.  There certainly is a crying need for an educational platform that is accessible to the masses.  And now, there exist enough robust tools for us to re-create the ethos of a Chautauqua on the internet.

We, the people, when it really mattered and the stakes were high, collectively taught ourselves how to better ourselves.  Now, in every corner of the world, the stakes are once again pretty high.  It is time for a new Chautauqua movement, and this one will be truly global.  So step right up, come on inside our virtual tent.  Welcome to the show.

 

 

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Economics

How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

In October 2020, a group of 79 Kenyans filed a lawsuit in a UK court against one of the world’s largest plantation companies, Camelia Plc. They say the company is responsible for the killings, rapes and other abuses that its security guards have carried out against local villagers at its 20,000 hectare plantation, which produces avocados for European supermarkets.

Such abuses are unfortunately all too routine on Africa’s industrial plantations. It has been this way since Europeans introduced monoculture plantations to Africa in the early 20th century, using forced labour and violence to steal people’s lands. Camelia’s plantations share this legacy, and the abuses suffered by the Kenyan villagers today are not so different from those suffered by the generations before them.

Abuses and injustices are fundamental to the plantation model. The question that should be asked is why any of these colonial plantations still exist in Africa today. Why haven’t Africa’s post-colonial governments dismantled this model of exploitation and extraction, returned the lands to their people and emboldened a resurgence of Africa’s diverse, local food and farming systems?

One important piece of this puzzle can be found in the archives of the World Bank.

Last year, an alliance of African organizations, together with GRAIN and the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), produced a database on industrial oil palm plantations in Africa. Through this research, we found that many of the oil palm and rubber plantations currently operating in West and Central Africa were initiated or restored through coordinated World Bank projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The ostensible goal of these projects was to develop state-owned plantations that could drive “national development”. The World Bank not only provided participating governments with large loans, but it also supplied the consultants who crafted the plantation projects and oversaw their management.

In case after case that we looked at, the consultants hired by the World Bank for these projects were from a company called SOCFINCO, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg holding company Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (SOCFIN). SOCFIN was a leading plantation company during the colonial period, with operations stretching from the Congo to Southeast Asia. When the colonial powers were sent packing in the 1960s, SOCFIN lost several of its plantations, and it was then that it set up its consultancy branch, SOCFINCO.

According to documents in the World Bank’s archives, SOCFINCO was hired by the Bank to oversee the development and implementation of oil palm and rubber plantation projects in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinée, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. SOCFINCO oversaw the development of blueprints for national oil palm and rubber plantation programs, and helped identify lands to be converted to industrial plantations.  It was also paid to manage the plantations and, in some cases, to organize sales of rubber and palm oil by the state plantation companies established through the program.

SOCFIN received lucrative management fees through these projects, but, more importantly, they positioned the company to take control of the trade in agri-commodity exports from Africa – and eventually to even take over the plantations. It was a huge coup for SOCFIN. As the World Bank projects were operated through parastatal companies (companies owned or controlled wholly or partly by the government), local communities could be dispossessed from their lands for plantations under the justification of “national development” – something that would be much more difficult for a foreign company like SOCFIN to do. Indeed, a condition for World Bank loans was that the governments secure lands for the projects, a step made easier by the fact that most of the projects were being implemented by military regimes.

The World Bank projects also allowed SOCFIN to avoid the costs of building the plantations and their associated facilities. Under the projects, the African governments paid the bill via loans from the World Bank and other development banks.

It was not long before the parastatal companies set up by the World Bank were mired in debt. Of course, the Bank blamed the governments for mismanagement and called for the privatisation of the plantations as a solution – even if those plantations were already being run by the high-priced managers of SOCFINCO and other foreign consultants.

In the privatization process that then followed, SOCFIN and SIAT, a Belgian company founded by a SOCFINCO consultant, took over many of the prized plantations. Today, these two companies control a quarter of all the large oil palm plantations in Africa and are significant players in the rubber sector.

Nigeria is a good example of how this scheme worked. Between 1974 and the end of the 1980s, SOCFINCO crafted master plans for at least seven World Bank-backed oil palm projects in five different Nigerian states. Each project involved the creation of a parastatal company that would both take over the state’s existing plantations and develop new plantations and palm oil mills as well as large-scale outgrower schemes. Overseeing all of SOCFINCO’s work in Nigeria was Pierre Vandebeeck, who would later found the company SIAT.

All of the World Bank projects in Nigeria generated enduring land conflicts with local communities, such as with the Oghareki community in Delta State or the villagers of Egbeda in Rivers State. After dispossessing numerous communities from their lands and incurring huge losses for the Nigerian government, the parastatal companies were then privatised, with the more valuable of the plantation assets eventually ending up in the hands of SOCFIN or Vandebeeck’s company SIAT.

SIAT took over the plantations in Bendel state through a subsidiary and then, in 2011, it acquired the Rivers State palm oil company, Risonpalm, through its company SIAT Nigeria Limited. Vandebeek was SOCFINCO’s plantation manager for Risonpalm under the World Bank between 1978-1983.

SOCFIN, for its part, took over the oil palm plantations in the Okomu area that were also developed under a World Bank project. It was SOCFINCO that first identified this area for plantation development as part of the study it was hired to undertake in 1974. The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. (OOPC) was subsequently established as a parastatal company in 1976, and 15,580 hectares of land within the Okomu Forest Reserve of Edo State was “de-reserved” and taken from the local communities to make way for oil palm plantations. The company hired SOCFINCO as the managing agent to oversee its activities from 1976-1990. Reports vary, but at some point between 1986 and 1990, OOPC was then divested to SOCFIN’s subsidiary Indufina Luxembourg.

This sordid history explains why so many of subsidiaries of SOCFIN and SIAT in Africa still carry national sounding names, like SOCAPALM in Cameroon or the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company. It also explains why these companies are so well designed to extract profits into the hands of their owners, and the crucial role of the World Bank for facilitating this corporate profit-seeking process in the name of “national development”.

 

Courtesy of Local Futures, This post is adapted from a GRAIN blog

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