The Top 10 Censored Stories

Media watchdog group Project Censored reports what was going on while the mainstream media were reporting on game shows and pop stars.

The stock market went down, then up, then down again. Survivor's ratings went up, and up, and up. And for weeks it was impossible to tell whether George W. Bush or Al Gore was on top.

And the mainstream media never averted its gaze for an instant, afraid to miss a single bump or dip.

Meanwhile, out of the frame, two trends remained constant: Big corporations and the government continued to put profits first and people second — and people continued to fight back. But you wouldn't know that if you got your information exclusively from daily papers and TV news.

Some of the stories you missed: The bombing of the Chinese embassy in the former Yugoslavia may not have been an accident. The United States could have stopped genocide in Rwanda. An independent study found that genetically modified foods cause serious health problems in rats. And multinational companies are fighting to commodify the world's water supply.

Those stories are all on Project Censored's 25th annual list of the year's most underreported news stories. The media-studies program, based at Sonoma State University, combs alternative weeklies, trade newsletters, scientific journals, and activist magazines and ferrets out the big stories that didn't appear anywhere else.

Censorship in the United States is a slippery thing. There is no government agency blacking out offending phrases before they can appear in the New York Times — although for a brief period in 1999 there were army propaganda specialists working at CNN.

But two important factors prevent mainstream news outlets from covering tough stories. First, papers end up reflecting the politics of their owners. The interests of big business are the interests of a newspaper's board of directors, which trickle down from the publisher to the editor-in-chief to the national and metro editors to the reporters, who know very well what kind of stories will get on the front page and what kind will get hacked to pieces and buried on page A13.

Second, shrinking budgets for news content mean fewer reporters are covering more stories in less time. Without the time or resources to pursue a lengthy investigation, they rely more and more on press releases and publicists — on the official cover stories of the corporate and government establishment.

"It's becoming increasingly easy to find stories," says project director Peter Phillips. "As the media becomes more and more consolidated and corporatized, it all starts to look the same."

Following are Project Censored's top 10 stories for 2000:

1. World Bank and multinational corporations seek to privatize water

More than 1-billion people lack access to fresh drinking water, according to the United Nations — and that number is expected to more than double in the next 10 years. World water consumption is growing more than twice as fast as the population. For human beings, this is a crisis. For corporations, though, it's an opportunity.

The world's biggest companies increasingly see water as the largest untapped commodity in the world. When municipal water services are privatized, rates are doubled or tripled, quality standards drop and customers who can't pay are cut off.

And governments are lining up to help. Every year, public officials from all over the world convene with big-business leaders and World Bank representatives at meetings of the World Water Council, a water think-tank dominated by commercial interests.

The corporations involved aren't shy about their plans. Monsanto's Robert Farley described his company's strategy this way: "Since water is as central to food production as seed is, and without water life is not possible, Monsanto is now trying to establish its control over water."

But the privatizers don't always have an easy time of it. In 1999, Bechtel took over the public water system in Cochabamba, Bolivia, with the help of the World Bank. The company immediately doubled water rates.

Bolivians didn't take this lying down. Last year, general strikes repeatedly brought the city to a standstill. The government ultimately conceded and nullified Bechtel's contract.

Cochabamba's water war was one of the most significant victories yet for the opponents of corporate-driven globalization. Most of the U.S. coverage came from Peter McFarren of the Associated Press, whose stories uncritically accepted the government's characterization of the protesters as drug traffickers. McFarren resigned from the wire service when it was revealed that he was actively lobbying the Bolivian Congress in support of a proposal to ship Bolivian water to Chile.

Maude Barlow, The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World's Water Supply, Prime, July 10, 2000.

Jim Shultz, Water Fallout, Canadian Dimension, February 2000; Water Fallout: Bolivians Battle Globalization, In These Times, May 15, 2000; Just Add Water, This, July/August 2000.

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