Project Censored: 10 Big Stories News Media Ignored in 2015 

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When Sonoma State University professor Carl Jensen started looking into the new media's practice of self-censorship in 1976, the Internet was only a dream and most computers were still big mainframes with whirling tape reels and vacuum tubes.

He put out an annual list of the 10 biggest stories that the mainstream media ignored, arguing that it was a failure of the corporate press to pursue and promote these stories that represented censorship — not by the government — but by the media itself.

"My definition starts with the other end, with the failure of information to reach people," he wrote. "For the purposes of this project, censorship is defined as the suppression of information, whether purposeful or not, by any method — including bias, omission, underreporting, or self-censorship, which prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in the world."

Jensen died in April, 2015, but his project was inherited and carried on by Sonoma State sociology professor Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff.

click to enlarge The wealth of 85 of the richest people in the world combined is equal to the wealth of half the world's poor combined. - OCCUPYCORPORATISM.COM
  • occupycorporatism.com
  • The wealth of 85 of the richest people in the world combined is equal to the wealth of half the world's poor combined.

Half of global wealth owned by the 1 percent

We hear plenty of talk about the wealth and power of the top 1 percent of people in the United States, but the global wealth gap is, if anything, even worse. And it has profound human consequences.

Oxfam International, which has been working for decades to fight global poverty, released a January 2015 report showing that, if current trends continue, the wealthiest 1 percent, by the end of this year, will control more wealth than everyone else in the world put together.

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Another stunning fact: The wealth of 85 of the richest people in the world combined is equal to the wealth of half the world's poor combined.

The mainstream news media coverage of the report and the associated issues was spotty at best. A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX and C-SPAN covered Oxfam's January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with about seven broadcast segments from Jan. 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2 and 3 a.m., far from primetime.

click image Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes are dumped into an unlined pit located right up against the Petroleum Highway in Kern County, California. - ARAH CRAIG/FACES OF FRACKING
  • arah Craig/Faces of Fracking
  • Fracking fluid and other drilling wastes are dumped into an unlined pit located right up against the Petroleum Highway in Kern County, California.

Oil industry illegally dumps fracking wastewater

Fracking, which involves pumping high-pressure water and chemicals into rock formations to free up oil and natural gas, has been a huge issue nationwide. But there's been little discussion of one of the side effects: the contamination of aquifers.

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The Center for Biological Diversity reported in 2014 that oil companies had dumped almost 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California's underground water supply. Since the companies refuse to say what chemicals they use in the process, nobody knows exactly what the level of contamination is. But wells that supply drinking water near where the fracking waste was dumped tested high in arsenic, thallium and nitrates.

In May 2015, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page feature on Central Valley crops irrigated with treated oil field water; however, the Los Angeles Times report made no mention of the Center for Biological Diversity's findings regarding fracking wastewater contamination.

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  • Wikimedia Commons

89 percent of Pakistani drone victims not identifiable as militants

The United States sends drone aircraft into combat on a regular basis, particularly in Pakistan. The Obama administration says the drones fire missiles only when there is clear evidence that the targets are Al Qaeda bases. Secretary of State John Kerry insists that, "the only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest levels."

But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which keeps track of all the strikes, reported that only 4 percent of those killed by drones were Al Qaeda members and only 11 percent were confirmed militants of any sort.

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That means 89 percent of the 2,464 people killed by U.S. drones could not be identified as terrorists.

In fact, 30 percent of the dead could not be identified at all.

The New York Times has covered the fact that, as one story noted, "most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names."

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  • Angus/Flickr

Popular resistance to corporate water grabbing

For decades, private companies have been trying to take over and control water supplies, particularly in the developing world. Now, as journalist Ellen Brown reported in March 2015, corporate water barons, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, the Carlyle Group and other investment firms "are purchasing water rights from around the world at an unprecedented pace."

However, over the past 15 years, more than 180 communities have fought back and re-municipalized their water systems. "From Spain to Buenos Aires, Cochabamba to Kazakhstan, Berlin to Malaysia, water privatization is being aggressively rejected," Victoria Collier reported in Counterpunch.

Meanwhile, in the United States, some cities — in what may be a move toward privatization — are radically raising water rates and cutting off service to low-income communities.

The mainstream media response to the privatization of water has been largely silence.

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  • Courtesy

Fukushima nuclear disaster deepens

More than four years after a tsunami destroyed Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, causing one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history, radiation from the plant continues to leak into the ocean.

But the story has largely disappeared from the news.

We're talking large amounts of highly contaminated water getting dumped into the ocean. The plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, "admitted that the facility is releasing a whopping 150 billion becquerels of tritium and seven billion becquerels of cesium- and strontium-contaminated water into the ocean every day." The potential for long-term problems all over the world is huge — and the situation hasn't been contained.

click to enlarge The National Security Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • The National Security Headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland

Fear of government spying is chilling writers' freedom of expression

Writers in Western liberal democracies may not face the type of censorship seen in some parts of the world, but their fear of government surveillance is still causing many to think twice about what they can say.

A PEN America survey showed that "34 percent of writers in liberal democracies reported some degree of self-censorship (compared with 61 percent of writers living in authoritarian countries, and 44 percent in semi-democratic countries). Almost 60 percent of the writers from Western Europe, the United States ... indicated that U.S. credibility 'has been significantly damaged for the long term' by revelations of the U.S. government surveillance programs."

click image Thirty-two percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed. - FIBONACCI BLUE/FLICKR
  • Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
  • Thirty-two percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed.

Who dies at the hands of police — and how often

High-profile police killings, particularly of African-American men, have made big news over the past few years. But there's been much less attention paid to the overall numbers — and to the difference between how many people are shot by cops in the United States and in other countries.

In the January 2015 edition of Liberation, Richard Becker, relying on public records, concluded that the rate of U.S. police killing was 100 times that of England, 40 times that of Germany and 20 times the rate in Canada.

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In June 2015, a team of reporters from the Guardian concluded that 102 unarmed people were killed by U.S. police in the first five months of that year — twice the rate reported by the government.

Furthermore, the Guardian wrote, "black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people." The paper concluded that, "Thirty-two percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25 percent of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15 percent of white people killed."

And as far as accountability goes, the Washington Post noted that in 385 cases of police killings, only three officers faced charges.

click to enlarge Demands for a living wage was the subjects of protests around the country. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Demands for a living wage was the subjects of protests around the country.

Millions in poverty get less media coverage than billionaires do

The news media in the United States doesn't like to talk about poverty, but they love to report on the lives and glory of the super-rich.

The advocacy group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, analyzed the three major television news networks and found that 482 billionaires got more attention than the 50 million people who live in poverty.

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This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who follows the mainstream media, or pays much attention to the world of social media and the blogosphere. The top rung of society gets vast amounts of attention, for good and for ill — but the huge numbers of people who are homeless, hungry and often lacking in hope just aren't news.

The FAIR study revealed that between January 2013 and February 2014, a scant average of just 2.7 seconds per 22-minute episode covered poverty, with just 23 news segments featuring the topic during the 14-month study.

click to enlarge Pirris Hydroelectric Power Station, Costa Rica - PUBLIC DOMAN
  • Public Doman
  • Pirris Hydroelectric Power Station, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is setting the standard on renewable energy

Is it possible to meet a modern nation's energy needs without any fossil-fuel consumption? Yes. Costa Rica has been doing it.

To be fair, that country's main industries — tourism and agriculture — are not energy-intensive, and heavy rainfall in the first part of the year made it possible for the country to rely heavily on its hydropower resources.

But even in normal years, Costa Rica generates 90 percent of its energy without burning any fossil fuels.

The transition to 100 percent renewables will be harder for larger countries — but as the limited reporting on Costa Rica notes, it's possible to take large steps in that direction.

click to enlarge As arctic ice melts because of global warming, more methane is being released into the atmosphere. - GREG WEBB / IAEA
  • Greg Webb / IAEA
  • As arctic ice melts because of global warming, more methane is being released into the atmosphere.

Methane and arctic warming's global impacts

We all know that carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are a huge threat to climate stability. But there's another giant threat out there that hasn't made much news.

The arctic ice sheets, which are rapidly melting in some areas, contain massive amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas that's way worse than carbon dioxide. And, as the ice recedes, that methane is getting released into the atmosphere.

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Dahr Jamail, writing in Truthout, notes that all of our predictions about the pace of global warming and its impacts might have to be re-evaluated in the wake of revelations about methane releases.

"A 2013 study, published in Nature, reported that a 50-gigaton 'burp' of methane is 'highly possible at any time.'" As Jamail clarified, "That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide," noting that, since 1850, humans have released a total of about 1,475 gigatons in carbon dioxide. A massive, sudden change in methane levels could, in turn, lead to temperature increases of four to six degrees Celsius in just one or two decades — a rapid rate of climate change to which human agriculture, and ecosystems more generally, could not readily adapt.

A huge story? Apparently not. The major news media have written at length about the geopolitics of the arctic region, but there's been very little mention of the methane monster.

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The runners-up:

  • Pesticide manufacturers spend millions on PR response to declining bee populations
  • USDA ignores popular critiques of new pesticide-resistant genetically modified crops
  • Pentagon and NATO encircle Russia and China
  • Global forced displacement tops 50 million
  • Big sugar borrowing tactics from big tobacco
  • U.S. military sexual assault of Colombian children
  • Media "whitewash" Senate's CIA torture report
  • ICREACH: the NSA's secret search engine
  • "Most comprehensive" assessment yet warns against geoengineering risks
  • FBI seeks backdoors in new communications technology
  • The new Amazon of the north: Canadian deforestation
  • Global killing of environmentalists rises drastically
  • Unprocessed rape kits
  • NSA's AURORAGOLD Program hacks cell phones around world
  • Greenland's meltwater contributes to rising sea levels

Tim Redmond, a long-time editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is the founding member of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center and editor of that nonprofit organization's publication 48 Hills.



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