by Michael Barker
(Swans - March 9, 2009) On January 13, 2009, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), a recently formed international media manipulator, released a report titled, "Soft Censorship: How Governments Around the Globe Use Money to Manipulate the Media." The report documents the manner in which various governments manipulate media systems within their own countries (e.g., the Ukraine and Chile). Significantly the report fails to identify the US government's extensive efforts to manipulate media systems in those same countries or the conduct of CIMA itself. When it is revealed that CIMA is a project of the US government's CIA-inspired National Endowment for Democracy (NED) this failure is contextualised. For example, by providing strategic support to local media projects the NED played a key role in facilitating Ukraine's Orange Revolution (in 2005), and in catalysing the ouster of Chile's resident dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1987. (1)
The first sentence of the executive summary of CIMA's report notes, without irony, that: "As once openly authoritarian regimes have moved toward more democratic societies -- or at least toward the appearance of democratic ones -- an insidious form of censorship has arisen." Such a statement expresses the anti-democratic function of the media in the United States itself. (2) That is, the media empire in the U.S. operates to bring pressures upon mainstream US journalists to self-censor and conform to capitalist ideology. Such pressure facilitates the transition from pseudo democratic forms of governance to openly authoritarian (media-backed) regimes.
This short article does not critique the content of CIMA's latest report; however, it is necessary to point out that almost all of the "independent" media groups referred to within the report have secured support from the National Endowment for Democracy at some point of their operations. (3) Instead this article scrutinizes a number of rarely mentioned democracy-manipulators whose work can be indirectly connected to Don Podesta, the author of the CIMA report. The point of this scrutiny is to demonstrate how deeply such media manipulators have insinuated themselves into global civil society, so that concerned activists can more effectively resist their hegemonic influence.
Don Podesta presently serves as consultant to CIMA. Prior to his engagement as consultant he served as a board member of the Inter American Press Association, and acted as "an assistant managing editor/copy desks at The Washington Post, where he worked for 27 years." His ties to the Inter American Press Association help explain his current role as consultant, as in earlier years this association had formed an alliance with the corporate media to help oust the Allende government in Chile in 1973. More recently the Inter American Press Association has acted in a similar fashion against President Chávez in Venezuela. An understanding of this background makes it relevant that The Washington Post's deputy managing editor, Milton Coleman, served alongside Podesta, until recently, on the board of the Inter American Press Association -- a group that might be considered to be just one of many CIMA precursors.
Given that both Podesta and Coleman have ties to The Washington Post an examination of other links that The Washington Post Company has to various philanthropic media manipulators is informative. This is because the long serving vice president of the Washington Post Company, Patrick Butler, also currently serves on CIMA's advisory council. In addition, two other board members of the Washington Post Company are affiliated to important democracy-manipulating media ventures: these are the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett (who serves on the advisory board of the International Center for Journalists -- a group that in turn obtains funding from the National Endowment for Democracy), and the former president and publisher of Akron Beacon-Journal, John Dotson, Jr. (who serves on the journalism advisory committee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation).
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (also known as the Knight Foundation), is a major supporter of seemingly "independent" media projects, and was created in 1940 with monies generated from the Akron Beacon Journal. Since 2005, the president and CEO of the foundation has been Alberto Ibarguen, the former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Ibarguen maintains impressive democracy-manipulating credentials, as he is a US member of the imperialist Inter-American Dialogue, board member of the CIA-linked Council on Foreign Relations, and has held high-level appointments within a number of media-manipulating groups like the Freedom Forum's Newseum, and the Inter American Press Association. Ibarguen, however, is a board member of the newly formed and ostensibly progressive investigative journalism project, Pro Publica -- for a critique of this organization's work see "Investigating the Investigators: A Critical Look at Pro Publica."
The Knight Foundation supports a number of media projects, one of which is the Internews Network. This is a significant show of support as the Internews Network is a large media agency that has a long history of collaboration with the US government and the National Endowment for Democracy. Created in 1982, Internews, like CIMA, promotes a special brand of independent media; that is, media that is independent -- or free -- of any questioning of the hegemonic US media.(4) In 2005, the president of Internews, David Hoffman, co-wrote an article (with conservative commentator Helle Dale) in which he observed that his network played a crucial role in the "war of ideas," a war that he believes should rely upon the "two pillars of American democracy -- free enterprise and free media." According to many critical media scholars these "pillars" are more likely to undermine American democracy than strengthen it. For instance, with regard to US mainstream media consumers, Michael Parenti writes:
The sinister commandant who tortures Winston in [George] Orwell's 1984 lets us know he is an oppressor. The vision of the future is of a boot pressing down on a human face, he tells his victim. The ideological control exercised in the United States today is far more insidious. Power is always more secure when cooptive, covert, and manipulative than when nakedly brutish. The support elicited through the control of minds is more durable than the support extracted at the point of a bayonet. The essentially undemocratic nature of the mainstream media, like the other business-dominated institutions of society, must be hidden behind a neutralistic, voluntaristic, pluralistic facade. "For manipulation to be most effective, evidence of its presence should be nonexistent.... It is essential, therefore, that people who are manipulated believe in the neutrality of their key social institutions," writes Herbert Schiller. (5)
Returning to Internews, strong criticisms of their ambitions to promote US foreign policy interests in the global war of words have come from foreign governments all over the world. It is correctly argued that Internews, along with other foreign NGOs, are operating illegally by manipulating their political systems in the same way that the U.S. would cry foul if China or Venezuela were bankrolling independent media outlets in the U.S. Following on from this point, some leaders have fittingly restricted the ability of foreign-financed NGOs to operate within their countries, as such selectively backed NGOs are considered to play an important role in what have been referred to as post-modern coups, for example Eastern Europe's "colour revolutions." Thus resistance from foreign governments towards US media interventions formed a major rationale for CIMA to publish the "Soft Censorship" report.
Bringing us back to the present, just last week CIMA organized a workshop titled "Green Journalism: Environmental Reporting in Developing Countries" with featured speakers including Sanjeev Chatterjee, the executive director of the Knight Foundation-supported Knight Center for International Media, Rob Taylor, the director of Science and Environment Programs at the NED-funded International Center for Journalists, and Jon Sawyer, the executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. (6) Needless to say, the environment is not a new area of concern for democracy manipulators like the NED or CIMA, and the NED has been channelling funds to environmental causes and journalists for years. Instead, it is more likely that CIMA's leading concern at this meeting was not the protection of the environment, but rather ensuring that the environmental writers who influence the public are able to suitably balance the "need" for economic growth with environmental sustainability. That is, CIMA sees an urgent need for environmental journalists -- especially those based in countries that are being exploited by Western corporations -- to report in an "objective," professional manner that highlights individual cases of corruption and exploitation and thus avoid public exposure of the systemic governmental, economic, structural, and institutional reasons enabling the degradation of the world's environment. Last week's meeting was undertaken as a means of reviewing and renewing commitment to the manipulation of environmental media networks. (7)
This article, in examining CIMA's recent work, has touched, in broad terms, on the magnitude of the US government's aim to manipulate the media. Regrettably -- other than exposing the subtle processes of philanthropic global media colonisation -- there is little that can be done to seriously reduce such influence. Thus the onus is on progressive citizens concerned with elite media manipulation to create and support vibrant media alternatives devoid of elite funding, which with persistence will allow us to build local and global movements that can ultimately render all attempts of elite manipulation futile.
1. "Chile has a long history of political inference relayed through 'independent' media. During the 1960s the newspaper El Mercurio received a helping hand from covert CIA funding to assist in the destabilization of the democratically elected Allende government, whose leadership was abruptly terminated when President Allende was assassinated in 1973 by a CIA-led coup. With Allende's government deposed, the following Pinochet dictatorship heavily censored the media, an action ignored by the U.S. However, in the late 1980s when the U.S. decided that it was time to replace Pinochet, the NED was used to provide aid to politically favoured groups -- like the Christian Democrats -- who in 1987, were able to break through the communicative barriers erected by Pinochet with their newly established newspaper, La Epoca, 'which quickly became one of the country's main dailies'. Later on in 1990, to support a US bid to oust the incumbent party, the NED provided Demokratzia (the newspaper of the opposition party -- Union of Democratic Forces) with 'US$233,000 worth of newsprint, to allow it to increase its size and circulation for the period leading up to the national elections'." See Michael Barker, Civil Society, Empowered or Overpowered: The Role of The Mass Media in 'Promoting Democracy' Worldwide (PDF), Referred paper presented to the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association International Conference, University of Adelaide, July 4-7, 2006.
For information about the NED's role in the Ukraine, see Michael Barker, Mediating Protests: A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mass Media and Social Movements (PDF), Referred paper presented to the Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity conference, University of Queensland, March 25-27, 2008. (back)
2. David Edward, "Interview with Alan Rusbridger (Editor, The Guardian)," Media Lens, December 2000; James Petras, "Mass Media and Mass Politics: Conservative, Liberal and Marxist Perspectives," The James Petras Website, May 11, 2008; UKWatch, "John Theobald and the Media: An Interview with David Berry," Fifth-Estate-Online, April 2007. For an assortment of online documentaries that critique the US mainstream media, see here (collated courtesy of the Teach Peace Foundation). (back)
3. A couple of examples from the introductory pages of the report include two Argentinean groups, the Association for Civil Rights and Citizen Power Foundation, and the Columbia-based Foundation for New Iberian-American Journalism. For further criticisms of the work of these groups see my articles, "Washington Promotes 'Independent' Media in Venezuela," and "Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Democracy Manipulators." (back)
4. The "Soft Censorship" report cites Ann Olson, "deputy chief of party and senior advisor for Internews Network in Ukraine," as an authority on independent media. Olson is a former Knight Foundation international journalism fellow who herself recently served as a CIMA consultant, writing a report for them last year. This makes it very clear what CIMA means by really be independent. (back)
5. Michael Parenti, Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media (St. Martin's Press, 1986), p.24. (back)
6. Headed by Jon Sawyer, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting describes its mission as "supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less willing to undertake." The Center "functions as an independent division of the World Security Institute," a non-profit group that ostensibly supports "independent research and journalism on global affairs." Bruce Blair founded the World Security Institute in 2000 (and still heads the organization), and prior to launching this group he served as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution for thirteen years. In addition to being the president of the World Security Institute, Blair also helps head up an independent division of the institute called Center for Defense Information, and is the executive producer for yet another division called Azimuth Media -- which produces the (liberal foundation supported) PBS show, Foreign Exchange, a show that was formerly hosted by "Spokesperson for the Global Elite," Fareed Zakaria. (Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International, a board member of the elite planning group the Trilateral Commission, and he formerly acted as the managing editor of the Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs from 1992 until 2000.)
Returning to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, two particularly interesting members of the Center's six-person-strong advisory council are Charlayne Hunter-Gault (who is a former National Correspondent for PBS, and in 1992 served as a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations) and Geneva Overholser (who formerly served on the editorial board of The New York Times, is a board member of the CIMA-linked Center for Public Integrity, and sits on the Knight Foundation's journalism advisory committee).
Finally, if the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is not just an elite front group and is truly interested in reporting on stories that are rarely covered in the US media then they might want to investigate the acquaintances of one of their three trustees, William Bush. This is because Bush is currently the partner-in-charge of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP ("one of the largest law firms in the United States"), a firm whose current executive committee chair, Steven Pfeiffer, was a former board member of the CIA-linked Riggs National Corporation (whose board members included the brother of George H.W. Bush, Jonathan J. Bush). A critical investigation of Pfeiffer's background might for instance examine his role as a board member of the Africa-America Institute (which formerly received NED-funding in the early 1990s), because fellow board members with equally unsavoury backgrounds (to just mention two) include the president of the world's largest diamond supplier De Beers Inc. USA (Rosalind Kainyah), and Maurice Tempelsman, who similarly "has a long and bloody history in Africa." In addition, Pfeiffer is linked to a long-running "humanitarian" project known as Project HOPE, which according to their Web site, "first pioneered medical diplomacy by developing friendly relationships with peoples of different cultures and orientations, through sharing of medical knowledge and treating patients alongside health professional counterparts." Indeed, the current chair of Project HOPE, Charles Sanders, is a trustee of the neoliberal Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is a board member of Genentech (one of the world's most successful biotechnology corporations); while another notable board member is J. Michael McQuade (who is a senior vice president for Science and Technology for the major defence contractor, United Technologies). Project HOPE appears to play a key "humanitarian" function for corporate elites in Africa, and it even works with another controversial group known as Engender Health that undertakes "health" work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a country that should certainly be the focus of critical "crisis reporting" by the Pulitzer Center. (back)
7. For instance, as reported in an earlier article, in Russia the NED has provided support to the Environmental Rights Center's Environment and Rights Journal (which has been published since February 2002), and whose editor-in-chief, Grigory Pasko, was awarded the Fondation de France Prize in 2002 from the NED-connected Reporters Without Borders. (back)
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