Censored in 2003, Part II

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

From the February, 2004 edition of The Valley Scene

Last month I identified half of the top 10 stories censored by Northeast Wisconsin media in 2003. To recap: 10) God talks to Bush, 9) Realtors inspire Republican tax freeze, 8) Tommy Thompson’s pay-to-play legacy, 7) Doyle doesn’t understand single sales, 6) Wal-Mart day of action.

My inspiration is Project Censored, a national organization founded in 1976 by Dr. Carl Jensen, professor emeritus of communications studies at Sonoma State University. Visit www.projectcensored.org for more information.
And now the top five censored stories of 2003.

No. 5: The Corporations That Supplied Iraq. In December of 2002, the Iraqi government provided the UN with an 11,000-page report that identified the American, British, German, French, and other corporations that supplied materials to Iraq necessary to manufacture chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Portions of the report were leaked to the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, which revealed that, "In addition to ... 24 companies home-based in the USA are 50 subsidiaries of foreign enterprises which conducted their arms business with Iraq from within the U.S. Also designated as suppliers for Iraq's arms programs are the U.S. Ministries of Defense, Energy, Trade and Agriculture as well as the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories."

The story disappeared from the American press in 2003. Northeast Wisconsin citizens have a right to know the extent to which our government and corporations colluded with Saddam Hussein to create a mess the cleanup of which has now cost the lives of over 500 soldiers, wounded and maimed almost 3,000 more, and cost the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

No. 4: The EAA Lie Continues. In March of 2003, Rick Rousos, a reporter for the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, revealed that the Experimental Aircraft Association-affiliated Sun ‘n Fun fly-in had exaggerated its attendance figures by more than 400,000. According to Rousos, “Sun 'n Fun claimed an estimated attendance of 645,000 for its week-long fly-in in April 2001. But Sun 'n Fun's tax and internal records show the attendance was less than 250,000. Of that number, 86,515 actually paid to get in. The rest were mainly volunteers, vendors and media representatives.”

Local media refuse to conduct rigorous research on EAA, resulting in taxpayers and government officials being duped about the economic impact of the annual fly-in. So irresponsible has been the Northeast Wisconsin media on this issue that as late as December of 2003 the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was reporting 750,000 as the annual EAA attendance.

No. 3: The Silencing of Fighting Bob.With Wisconsin’s government at its lowest ethical point since the late 19th century, you’d think Northeast Wisconsin media would have some interest in signs of a resurgence of the progressive movement. No such luck.

Ed Garvey’s second annual Fighting Bob Fest, held in September in Baraboo, along with the November National Media Reform conference held in Madison, were two of the best-attended political events in the history of the state. Each attracted speakers of international stature, yet even that was not enough to warrant serious coverage by any of our region’s media.
See Garvey’s www.fightingbob.com for points of view regularly silenced in the corporate press.

No. 2: Mercy Medical Organizing Drive Fails. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represent many health-care workers across the nation. According to the union’s Web site, www.ufcw.org, “The care is being squeezed out of the health care. HMOs, managed care and megamergers are pushing profits over quality care. They are downsizing staff, contracting out, replacing highly skilled professionals with less skilled substitutes, and increasing caregiver responsibilities without training or increased compensation, leaving our health-care system understaffed, overwhelmed and with compromised care quality.”

UFCW Local 73A in Oshkosh spent much of 2003 trying to organize nurses at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh. Affinity Health Systems launched an aggressive resistance to the union movement, and the UFCW ultimately failed to get enough nurses to say yes to unionization.

Unfortunately, Northeast Wisconsin media showed little interest in the organizing effort, which had the practical effect of taking Affinity’s side since the last thing health-care administrators want is public attention directed toward their management practices.

No. 1: FCC Relaxation of Media Ownership Rules Hurts Northeast Wisconsin.In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission proposed sweeping changes in media ownership rules that would allow for a tiny group of megacorporations to control the majority of the nation’s media.

The rule changes have not gone into effect, mostly because more than 3 million average Americans contacted their representatives to express outrage.

Northeast Wisconsin corporate media not only underreported the FCC story, but also failed to reveal clearly and repeatedly that under the new rules Northeast Wisconsin would endure the most consolidation.

According to Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin, “The Green Bay-Appleton and Madison markets would suffer the most consolidation under the new FCC rules. A single company could own up to one television station, one newspaper and three radio stations in either market; or up to two television stations and seven radio stations; or up to one newspaper and seven radio stations.”

If censorship is a problem now in our region, imagine what it will be like when one company owns all the major media.

Tony Palmeri (Palmeri@uwosh.edu) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.