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The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2015: Project Censored Breaks Down the Top Under-Reported Stories in the Mainstream Media

First of a Two-Part Series
Posted In:News, Investigative Reporting, National | From Issue 823 | By: | 25th February, 2016 | 0

The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2015: Project Censored Breaks Down the Top Under-Reported Stories in the Mainstream Media

Introduction by Robert E. Martin

Compiled by Project Censored

Since 1976 the Sonoma State University student & faculty program has conducted an annual search for major & significant news stories that are under-reported, casting light upon stories many Americans rarely hear about, yet definitely should know about.

While things have improved since the advent of the Internet, mainstream media in the United States fails to provide the public information it need sin order to function properly in a democracy. Sonoma State Professor Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored, explains that “Alternative media is doing the job, but unfortunately many Americans don’t see the alternative press. As a result, much real information is censored simply because it is not available in the papers and television news most people routinely see. Mainstream media don’t like to hear the suggestion that by not covering certain stories they are effectively censoring the news, but that is exactly the case," said Phillips. "Project Censored defines censorship as the interference with the free flow of information in our society."

The concept of news censorship is more complicated than a government official or industry spin-doctor simply stamping "CENSORED" on information and hiding it from the public, according to Phillips. "There are a variety of factors that go into censorship in an otherwise democratic society, including the tendency to report entertainment, sex and celebrity news rather than the harder, more serious issues of the day," he said. "Increasingly, we believe the leading factors are the conglomeration of media chains and the ownership and control of media giants such as NBC and CBS by corporations such as General Electric and Westinghouse.”

The Top 10 censored stories are culled from reporters, editors and readers from throughout the country. Each story is reviewed by student researchers and faculty experts to determine the veracity and significance of the report and to what extent the subject was covered by mainstream media. 

During this year’s cycle, Project Censored reviewed 203 Validated Independent News stories (VINs) representing the collective efforts of 191 college students and 31 professors from 18 college and university campuses that participate in their affiliate program.

The final list is submitted to a panel of national judges who vote to determine the order of significance.  Here are the top five stores in this first of our two part-installment in The Review.

 

#5 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Deepens

The 2011 nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, continues unresolved, despite both assurances by government authorities and major news media that the situation has been contained and the assessment of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency that Japan has made “significant progress” in cleaning up the site.

The continued dumping of extremely radioactive cooling water into the Pacific Ocean from the destroyed nuclear plant, already being detected along the Japanese coastline, has the potential to impact entire portions of the Pacific Ocean and North America’s western shoreline. Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) recently admitted that the facility is releasing large quantities of water contaminated with tritium, cesium, and strontium into the ocean every day.

While acknowledging that the water in remaining tanks at the Fukushima facility is heavily “tainted,” a December 2014 statement from the Japanese government’s Nuclear Radiation Authority affirmed a decision to dump it into the Pacific. Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, TEPCO 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. By contrast, the Japanese government does not allow over 100 becquerels per kilogram to be sold to its citizenry. “This water contains plutonium 239 and its release into the ocean has both local as well as global repercussions,” wrote Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research.

In August 2014, TEPCO acknowledged that nearly every fuel rod at Reactor 3 in the No. 1 plant had melted as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, Sarah Lazare reported, drawing on Japanese press sources. Previously, TEPCO had estimated that only 63 percent of the reactor’s nuclear fuel had melted. The TEPCO statement also noted that the fuel began melting six hours earlier than previously believed. Both factors, Lazare wrote, would make the extraction and disposal of melted fuel more difficult.

More than four years since the tsunami and earthquake devastated Fukushima, corporate media do not treat the ongoing disaster itself as significantly newsworthy. Instead, most developing corporate coverage focuses on whether other countries, including the US, are adequately prepared if a similar type of nuclear disaster were to occur elsewhere. Certainly this is an important consideration, but the plight of the Japanese people displaced by the disaster, not to mention its long-term, potentially global environmental consequences, remain dramatically underreported in the corporate press.

In May 2015, the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority gave final clearance to the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, which is owned and operated by the Kyushu Electric Power Company, to restart operations. It is the nation’s first nuclear power plant to resume operations, under new government regulations, since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Russia Today reported that, “despite objections from almost two thirds of the public,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “wants nuclear plants to supply about 20–22 percent of Japan’s energy needs by 2030.”

“TEPCO Drops Bombshell About Sea Releases; 8 Billion Bq Per Day,” Simply Info: The Fukushima Project, August 26, 2014, http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/?p=13700.

Sarah Lazare, “Fukushima Meltdown Worse Than Previous Estimates: TEPCO,” Common Dreams, August 7, 2014, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/08/07/fukushima-meltdown-worse-previous-estimates-tepco.

Michel Chossudovsky, “The Fukushima Endgame: The Radioactive Contamination of the Pacific Ocean,” Global Research, December 17, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-fukushima-endgame/5420188.

Student Researcher: Cassie Kahant (Florida Atlantic University)

Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)

 

#6 Methane and Arctic Warming’s Global Impacts

In recent years, atmospheric methane levels have reached an all-time high. A greenhouse gas that is a leading contributor to global warming, methane is far more destructive than carbon dioxide. In his report for Truthout, Dahr Jamail quoted Paul Beckwith, a professor of climatology and meteorology at the University of Ottawa: “Our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two.” Such changes would have “unprecedented effects” for life on Earth.

The melting of arctic ice releases previously trapped methane into the atmosphere. “What happens in the Arctic,” Beckwith observed, “does not stay in the Arctic.” The loss of arctic ice affects the Earth as a whole. For example, as the temperature difference between the Arctic and the equator decreases, the jet stream increases. This in turn speeds the melting of arctic ice.

Leonid Yurganov, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, stated that “increased methane would influence air temperature near the surface. This would accelerate the Arctic warming and change the climate everywhere in the world.”

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is one area of particular concern. Some million square kilometers in size, the ESAS releases seventeen million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year, according to a recent study. Natalia Shakhova, a researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, reported that ESAS emissions “are prone to be non-gradual (massive, abrupt).”

A 2013 study, published in Nature, reported that a fifty-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 approximately 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.

In April 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry became chair of the eight-nation Arctic Council. On this occasion, he spoke about methane emissions, saying, “These pollutants are a threat to everybody.” Kerry’s remarks and the Council’s meeting received coverage in corporate outlets such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times’ coverage did not elaborate at all on methane threats, much less raise scientists’ concerns about the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, but it did focus on the Arctic Council’s biennial gathering as another arena in which Western nations saber-rattled with Russia over the Ukraine. The Los Angeles Times’ coverage also emphasized Russia–US relations: for example, it reported that “the Kremlin has underscored its role in the Arctic with massive military exercises, including a readiness drill last month that sent 40,000 troops, 50 warships and more than 100 combat aircraft into and over the Barents Sea.” The only quoted source to mention methane in the Los Angeles Times’ coverage was Whit Sheard of the Ocean Conservancy, who represents a consortium of environmental groups at the council. Sheard said, “Considering the challenges facing the Arctic, it’s easy to dwell on the negative. But I think today’s proceedings give us some optimism that these incredibly complex issues can be resolved.” However, noting that some 30 percent of the world’s untapped natural gas rests beneath the Arctic seafloor, the Los Angeles Times reported that opportunities to access these resources has “set off a scramble among energy giants of the council member states, as well as other countries that claim a share of the region’s bounty or an existential stake in how the demands of development and environmental protection are managed.”

Dahr Jamail, “The Methane Monster Roars,” Truthout, January 13, 2015, http://truth-out.org/news/item/28490-the-methane-monster-roars.

Student Researcher: Michael Brannon (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

 

#7 Fear of Government Spying is “Chilling” Writers’ Freedom of Expression

Mass surveillance has “badly shaken writers’ faith that democratic governments will respect their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” according to a January 2015 PEN America report based on the responses of 772 writers from fifty countries. Reporting for Common Dreams, Lauren McCauley covered not only the PEN America report, but also a July 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch indicating that US journalists and lawyers increasingly avoid work on potentially controversial topics due to fear of government spying.

McCauley’s January 2015 Common Dreams story quoted one of the conclusions from the PEN America report: “If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers—particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today—may be greatly impoverished.”

According to the PEN America survey, 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). Nearly 60 percent of the writers from Western Europe, the US, and the latter’s “Five Eyes” surveillance partners (Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand) indicated that US credibility “has been significantly damaged for the long term” by revelations of the US government surveillance programs.

In the few instances when corporate news media covered the PEN America report, that coverage downplayed the scope of the report’s implications. For instance, while the New York Times’ Jennifer Schuessler filed a substantive story on the PEN America report, the Times ran her article in its arts section. A second Times article based on the PEN America report focused specifically on press freedom in Hong Kong, effectively ignoring the forty-nine other countries that the report addressed.

Lauren McCauley, “Fear of Government Spying ‘Chilling’ Writers’ Speech Worldwide,” Common Dreams, January 5, 2015, http://commondreams.org/news/2015/01/05/fear-government-spying-chilling-writers-speech-worldwide.

Lauren McCauley, “Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report,” Common Dreams, July 28, 2014, http://commondreams.org/news/2014/07/28/government-surveillance-threatens-journalism-law-and-thus-democracy-report.

Student Researcher: Shelby Meyers (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)

 

#8 Who Dies at the Hands of US Police—and How Often

Compared with other capitalist countries, the US is unquestionably different when it comes to the level of state violence directed against minorities, Richard Becker reported in January 2015 for Liberation. Using 2011 figures, Becker wrote that, on a per capita basis, “the rate of killing by U.S. police was about 100 times that of English cops in 2011.” Similarly, US police were forty times as likely to kill as German police officers, and twenty times as likely to kill as their Canadian counterparts. This, Becker noted, is probably not the kind of “American exceptionalism” that President Obama had in mind when he addressed graduating West Point cadets in May 2014.

It is not clear how many people police in the US kill each year, since there is no federal agency that accurately keeps track of such information. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles annual statistics for “justified homicides” by police, and all reported police killings are registered as “justified” killings by the FBI. Since participation in reporting homicides to the FBI by police and sheriff’s departments is voluntary, only about 800 police agencies—out of 18,000—provide statistics.

According to FBI statistics, there were 461 “justified homicides” by police in 2013, but the website KilledByPolice.net, reported that US police killed around 748 people in just the last eight months of 2013, and 1,100 in 2014. The Killed By Police figures were compiled using establishment media sources; because not every police killing is reported, and checking all news sources across the country is virtually impossible, these figures likely underestimate the number of police killings of civilians.

In England, which Becker characterized as “a capitalist country with a long history of racism,” police do not carry guns on patrol. Official records indicate that British police only used guns three times while on duty in all of 2013, with zero reported fatalities.

In recent months, there has been an outpouring of opposition to police murder in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in hundreds of cities, towns, and campuses. “As in all other progressive struggles throughout history,” Becker wrote, “it is the movement of the people in the streets, schools and workplaces that is the key to real change.”

In June 2015, a team of reporters at the Guardian filed a major new report on police killings in the US.52 Summarizing findings from the Guardian study, Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, and Jamiles Lartey reported that 102 unarmed people were killed by US police through the first five months of 2015, and that agencies are killing people at twice the rate calculated by the US government. (On problems with the official US figures, see Peter Phillips, Diana Grant, and Greg Sewell, “Law Enforcement-Related Deaths in the US: ‘Justified Homicides’ and Their Impacts on Victims’ Families,” Censored 2015: Inspiring We the People, eds. Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff [New York: Seven Stories Press, 2014], 243–68, and at http://www.projectcensored.org/law-enforcement-related-deaths-us.) Furthermore, they wrote, “black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.” Based on analysis of public records and local news reports, and the Guardian’s own reporting, they reported that “32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”

Over the five-month period covered in the study, Guardian researchers identified twenty-seven people killed by police use of Tasers. All but one of these victims were unarmed. The study also documented fourteen officer-involved deaths following altercations in custody, including that of Freddie Gray, whose death from a broken neck sustained in a Baltimore police van led to public protests and the indictment of six city police officers.

Twenty-six percent of people killed by police exhibited some sort of mental illness, with at least twenty-nine cases involving a victim who was suicidal.

To its credit, the Washington Post also published a significant investigation of US police killings, around the same time as the Guardian study. The Post analysis corroborated many of the findings from the Guardian investigation. Both studies found that police fatally shot approximately 2.5 people per day across the first five months of 2015. Both studies found significant racial disparities among the dead, especially in cases of unarmed suspects. (For a concise summary of the Guardian and Poststudies, see Jaeah Lee, “What 2 Big New Reports on Police Killings Tell Us,” Mother Jones, June 2, 2015, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/06/data-police-shootings-washington-post-guardian.)            In the 385 cases that the Post identified, only three officers have faced charges. The Post study found that, “for the vast majority of departments, a fatal shooting is a rare event.” Of some 18,000 law enforcement agencies, only 306 have recorded a fatal shooting in the first five months of 2015. ThePost found that nineteen state and local agencies were involved in three or more fatal shootings each, including departments in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and Bakersfield, California.

Among many sources quoted in the Post’s significant report was Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Police Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving law enforcement. Bueermann spoke for many when he said, “These shootings are grossly underreported. . . . We have to understand the phenomena behind these fatal encounters. . . . There is a compelling social need for this, but a lack of political will to make it happen.”

Richard Becker, “U.S. Cops Kill at 100 Times Rate of Other Capitalist Countries,” Liberation, January 4, 2015, http://www.liberationnews.org/u-s-cops-kill-100-times-rate-capitalist-countries/.

Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, and Jamiles Lartey, “Black Americans Killed by Police Twice as Likely to be Unarmed as White People,” Guardian, June 1, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/01/black-americans-killed-by-police-analysis.

Student Researcher: Brooks Brorsen (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

 

#9 Millions in Poverty Get Less Media Coverage Than Billionaires Do

In June 2014, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a study showing that ABC World News, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News give more media coverage to the 482 billionaires in the US than to the fifty million people in poverty, airing almost four times as many stories that included the term “billionaire” as stories including terms such as “homeless” or “welfare.”

“The notion that the wealthiest nation on Earth has one in every six of its citizens living at or below the poverty threshold reflects not a lack of resources, but a lack of policy focus and attention—and this is due to a lack of public awareness to the issue,” Frederick Reese of MintPress News wrote.

The FAIR study showed that between January 2013 and February 2014, an average of only 2.7 seconds per every twenty-two-minute episode discussed poverty in some format. During the fourteen-month study, FAIR found just twenty-three news segments that addressed poverty. Those segments featured fifty-four sources, only twenty-two of which were people personally affected by poverty. “That means, on average, someone affected by poverty appeared on any nightly news show only once every 20 days,” FAIR reported.

Television news coverage of the rich was not only four times more frequent, but also “painted them in a favorable light,” according to the study. For instance, during an August 2013 segment of NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams explained that billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos were purchasing newspapers “because they believe in quality work and a robust press.” (As questionable as it may have been at the time, Williams’s assessment becomes rather ironic in light of his own travails in journalistic credibility.)

In March 2014, Tavis Smiley reported that “poverty represents less than 0.02 percent of lead media coverage.” His article focused on how the media could increase the “quantity and quality of coverage of this crucial issue.” Smiley’s recommendations included calling on media to “promote our collective appreciation of the inherent values we all share in alleviating domestic poverty.” He asked, “Are we really telling the diversity of stories among the 50 million people impacted by poverty?”

“There is no legitimate justification for ignoring a story affecting tens of millions of our most vulnerable, under any circumstances,” said FAIR’s Steve Rendall. Nevertheless, the disproportionate amount of airtime corporate media have allotted to covering billionaires has—perhaps not surprisingly—not been covered by the corporate press.

Steve Rendall, Emily Kaufmann, and Sara Qureshi, “Even GOP Attention Can’t Make Media Care about Poor,” Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 1, 2014, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/even-gop-attention-cant-make-media-care-about-poor/.

Frederick Reese, “Billionaires Get More Media Attention Than The Poor,” MintPress News, June 30, 2014, http://www.mintpressnews.com/billionaires-get-media-attention-poor/193174/.

Student Researchers: Feather Flores and Susanne Boden (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)

 

#10 Costa Rica Setting the Standard on Renewable Energy

For seventy-five days straight during the first months of 2015, the nation of Costa Rica did not burn any fossil fuels to generate electricity. Instead, as a result of heavy rainfall, hydropower plants generated almost all of the country’s electricity. The country’s geothermal, wind, and solar energy sources made reliance on coal and petroleum sources unnecessary.

As Myles Gough reported, Costa Rica’s primary industries are tourism and agriculture, which require little energy, compared with industries such as mining or manufacturing. The nation also has topographical features (including volcanoes) that are conducive to producing renewable energy.

Both Lizzie Wade, writing for Wired, and Lindsay Fendt, of the Guardian, noted that the heavy rainfall that allowed Costa Rica to generate all its electricity from renewable sources in early 2015 is likely the result of climate change. (Most years, Costa Rica generates approximately 90 percent of its electricity without burning fossil fuels.) Drought would seriously disrupt Costa Rica’s ability to generate electricity with hydropower. As Wade reported, in 2014, Costa Rica “declared a state of emergency in the country’s northwest because of an El Niño-fueled drought,” which forced utilities to switch on some diesel generators. Nevertheless, as Gough noted, “100 percent renewable energy generation, for any extended period of time, is an enviable achievement.”

Other communities, cities, and countries aim to follow in Costa Rica’s footsteps, Adam Epstein reported. Bonaire, a Dutch island territory off Venezuela’s coast operates on nearly all renewable energy sources; Iceland already produces 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, with about 85 percent of all its energy from geothermal and hydropower source; and Denmark obtains 40 percent of its energy from wind, with plans to cease all fossil fuel use by 2050.

In the US, Samantha Page reported, “Hawaii is on its way to having the greenest grid in the nation.”57In May 2015, the state legislature sent a bill (HB 623) to the governor’s office that requires all electricity provided by electric companies to come from renewable sources by 2045. Around the world, over fifty cities, including Vancouver, Canada; San Diego and San Francisco, in California; and Sydney, Australia, have announced their progress towards 100 percent renewable energy. Some are aiming for 2020, others by 2030 or 2035.

Myles Gough, “Costa Rica Powered with 100% Renewable Energy for 75 Straight Days,” Science Alert, March 20, 2015, http://www.sciencealert.com/costa-rica-powered-with-100-renewable-energy-for-75-days.

Adam Epstein, “Costa Rica is Now Running Completely on Renewable Energy,” Quartz, March 23, 2015, http://qz.com/367985/costa-rica-is-now-running-completely-on-renewable-energy/.

Student Researcher: Lauren Kemmeter (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

 

 

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