Friday, April 27, 2012

Shadows of Liberty

American media is controlled by a small number of corporations, who manage the news their outlets are allowed to air.  Since 2008, 166 newspapers in the US have folded and 350,000 jobs have been lost, which contributes to the power and influence of these corporate giants.  This situation threatens the information flow to citizens, and the very freedom of the US, where freedom of the press was a founding principle.  This is the argument of the film Shadows of Liberty, my first movie at this year's Hot Docs Festival.

This film followed several big stories that news organizations had failed to deliver.  After the original expos√© on Nike's labour abuses in Viet Nam, the same reporter fought to have a follow-up story aired on CBS; however, CBS was in negotiations with Nike for a major sponsorship of the Olympics, and senior executives quashed the story.

Another case involved the story of the connection between the crack cocaine explosion in the US and US support of the contras in Nicaragua.  Gary Webb, the reporter who broke that story in the San Jose Mercury, was hounded to suicide because of the backlash.

Another story was the loss of TWA 800:  there was considerable evidence pointing to the flight going down because of friendly fire from naval exercises nearby.  Government flooded the airwaves with cover-up stories, and the media compliantly let the story go.

And then there was the big one - the US media's lapping up of the Bush administration's  allegations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  The administration rewarded reporters who toed the line, and choked off access for those who challenged.  At the same time, the BBC was giving prime time to voices challenging Blair's position on the war.

Even such respected media as PBS have caved to corporate interests, such as their silence on the Archer Midland Daniels scandal over price fixing.  Even the respected New York Times came in for its share of vilication.

This was a good movie, but I was left wishing that it had been better.  I didn't learn much new that I didn't already know.  Although Quebec director Jean Phillippe Tremblay stated that he wanted to shed light on global media, the movie was entirely focused on the US, and mostly on CBS.  It also failed to analyze the impact of Internet outlets, citizen journalism, and even documentaries like this.

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