The reactions of the mainstream media to Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks demonstrate their nearly explicit alliance with government elites. Nowadays, it seems mainstream TV news anchors and reporters are merely mouthpieces for the U.S. government, and if it weren’t for the online presence of independent media, press freedom in this country would be at a loss.
A dean of he communications school at a university in Ethiopia and the journalism department head at that university recently visited Ithaca College to learn more about how journalism is taught in the collegiate setting in the U.S. I was able to talk with them about press freedom in their country, which is see to be one of the most restricted in sub-Saharan Africa. Though limited press freedom is never a good thing, the reasons for having such high state-controlled media in Ethiopia seemed more or less justified, based on my understanding of the conversations I had. Due to the effects of colonization and the decolonization that followed, Ethiopia is made up of an incredibly diverse population in terms of culture and customs. Tensions are high between these differing communities, to the point that if any sensitive material was broadcast in the media that criticized any group of people, it could incite violence between different communities. In light of this, the government feels the need to maintain strict control over the media to avoid the eruption of any violence within its divided population.
One could argue that the U.S. mainstream media is nearly as tightly controlled as that in Ethiopia, but for largely less justified reasons. It is corporate involvement in both media and politics that has led our media to resemble the press in less ‘free’ countries, which for a country that established the ideal of press freedom, is frightening and absolutely unacceptable.
But perhaps what scares me the most is when I hear members of the public agreeing with the mainstream media narrative, taking it at face value, and joining it war against independent media and whistleblowers. This was especially seen during the recent election, as many of my friends were complaining about how WikiLeaks was plotting against Hillary Clinton and needed to stop releasing information that would interfere with the election. But it’s not WikiLeaks that is the problem — the problem is that our two major party candidates were ridden in scandals. WikiLeaks only exposed this reality, and rightfully so. The government can go on controlling the mainstream corporate media as long as the U.S. public recognizes that it is now essentially state-controlled media, and that as a people, we have to resist this influence by tuning in to independent media outlets who are, as of now, beyond the reach of the government. We have to resist the temptation to join the U.S. government and its media in its war on dissent and stand up for the rights of the voices not represented in state-controlled media.