Selected Stories Preview of Censored 2018: Press Freedoms in a “Post-Truth” World

by Project Censored

If you have found this page, congratulations! You are about to preview some selected highlights from Project Censored’s Top 25 Censored Stories of 2016-2017 as featured in Censored 2018: Press Freedoms in a “Post-Truth” World.

Project Censored’s latest book, published by Seven Stories Press, will be available on October 3, 2017.

Please note that the following list has been pulled from the Top 25 Most Censored Stories of 2016-2017 which at this time has not been released. The following previews are abbreviated versions of the full stories to be released next week. Also note that these stories are in no particular order.

Pentagon Paid UK PR Firm for Fake Al-Qaeda Videos

The Pentagon paid a British PR firm more than $660 million to run a top-secret propaganda program in Iraq from at least 2006 to December 2011, Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith reported for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in October 2016. The Bureau reported that Bell Pottinger’s work consisted of three types of products, including TV commercials portraying al-Qaeda in a negative light, news items intended to look like they had been created by Arabic TV, and fake al-Qaeda propaganda films. A former Bell Pottinger video editor said that he was given precise instructions for production of fake al-Qaeda films, and that US Marines would take CDs of these films on patrol to drop in houses that they raided. Codes embedded in the CDs linked to a Google Analytics account, which allowed US military personnel to track a list of IP addresses where the CDs had been played, providing crucial intelligence for US operations. The Pentagon contracted with the British PR firm for this work because it was “operating in a legal ‘grey area.’”

Young Plaintiffs Invoke Constitutional Grounds for Climate Protection

In September 2015, twenty-one plaintiffs, aged eight to nineteen, brought a lawsuit against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry to the US Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon. The case, Juliana v. United States, argued that the federal government and the fossil fuel industry have knowingly endangered the plaintiffs by promoting the burning of fossil fuels, and that this violates their constitutional and public trust rights. Their complaint said that the defendants “deliberately allow[ed] atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history.” In April 2016, US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin denied a motion to dismiss the case, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs’ charge that the federal government violates constitutional and public trust rights by its ongoing promotion of fossil fuels that destabilize the earth’s climate. In a report published by Forbes, James Conca wrote that the lawsuit was the first of its kind, examining whether the causes of climate change violate the US Constitution. As Conca reported, the decision “upheld the youth Plaintiffs’ claims in the Fifth and Ninth Amendments ‘by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring the short-term economic interests of certain citizens.’”

Eight Use of Force Policies to Prevent Killings by Police

Killings by police are not inevitable or difficult to prevent, according to a September 2016 study by Campaign Zero, a police-reform group formed in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. The study, “Police Use of Force Policy Analysis,” examined police departments in ninety-one of the nation’s largest cities and found that departments with stricter use of force regulations killed significantly fewer people. Campaign Zero identified eight guidelines restricting when and how police officers use force that greatly decrease the likelihood of civilian deaths. The same study also showed that the numbers of officers assaulted or killed in the line of duty decreased in proportion with the number of regulations adopted by their department.

Courts across US Using Racially-Biased Software to Assess Defendants’ Risk of Committing Future Crimes

As ProPublica reported in May 2016, courtrooms across the country use algorithmically-generated scores, known as risk assessments, to rate a defendant’s risk of future crime and, in many states, to unofficially inform judges’ sentencing decisions. The ProPublica study was specifically intended to assess whether an algorithm known as COMPAS, or Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, produced accurate prediction results. ProPublica reported that the risk scores produced by COMPAS “proved remarkably unreliable” in forecasting violent crime. In fact, the algorithm was only “somewhat more accurate” than a coin toss. The study also found significant racial disparities. “The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants,” ProPublica reported.

2016: A Record Year for Global Internet Shutdowns

Governments around the world shut down Internet access more than fifty times in 2016, Lyndal Rowlands reported for the Inter Press Service (IPS) in December of that year. Around the world, governments shutting down Internet access limited freedom of speech, swayed elections, and damaged economies. “In the worst cases,” Rowlands wrote, “Internet shutdowns have been associated with human rights violations,” as happened in Ethiopia and Uganda. The IPS report quoted Deji Olukotun, a senior manager at digital rights organization Access Now: “What we have found is that Internet shutdowns go hand in hand with atrocities.” Not only do these shutdowns restrict freedom of speech, they also hurt economies around the world. TechCrunch, IPS, and other independent news organizations reported that a Brookings Institution study found that Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion between July 2015 and June 2016.

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