The Dixie Chicks, that is.
This isn't the first time that big media companies have barred them from the
airwaves, but it is the first time that NBC and the new CW network have. It
appears that once again the Dixie Chicks have exhibited public disapproval of
the Bush administration and once again the media have answered by censoring
them. This bodes ill for the future of free speech, at least what's left of it
Roots of Rejection: The First Snubbing of the Chicks
In March of 2003, singer Natalie Maines expressed her disagreement with the
start of the war in Iraq and
her disgust with President Bush in public at a Dixie Chicks' concert in London. Shortly
thereafter, chaos ensued as radio stations refused to play the band's songs and
conservative political commentators skewered them verbally on shows. Fans also
boycotted their concerts and their music. Three years later, the Chicks are
releasing Shut Up &
Sing, a film documenting the 2003 controversy and its aftermath.
But NBC is refusing to run an ad
for the documentary. The network says that the documentary denigrates
President Bush too much. (Check out the story on
NPR). That's an interesting perspective for a network to take and it leads
to bigger questions. Who owns NBC and what links does the government have to
NBC? And, further, are those relationships influencing this particular
decision? I wanted to know, so I started digging through the virtual files.
Who Owns the Airwaves Here: A Brief Look at NBC
- F-16 fighter jets
- Abrams tanks
- Apache helicopters
- U2 Bombers
Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles
- A-10 aircraft
- Other planes, helicopters and
A deeper excavation shows that GE's board of directors
includes members who also sit on the boards of Bechtel and the Chevron
Corporation. (See Project
Censored's report on media interlocks with corporations).
Bechtel is an American-owned engineering,
construction, and project management company. Strange, that, because they just
years of work in Iraq to rebuild what the war has destroyed.
The Chevron Corporation
is one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in the world. With
headquarters in California
and operations in 180 countries, they supply a large segment of the world with
oil, gas, and other forms of energy. With oil
supplies dwindling as they never have before, it's a good time for an
energy and oil company to control as much of the manufacturing process as
So What? Every Company Needs to Make a Profit to Stay Alive
Surely it's true that every company has to make money. If they don't, they
have to close shop and move on. Why does it matter that these companies have
relationships with each other? Everyone networks these days.
It's not the networking itself that presents a problem. It's questions
regarding media ethics and public trust. Do we believe that the media is
providing accurate, fair and complete information about issues related to the
corporations that own them? Or do we wonder if their interest in their own
bottom lines prevents them from actually serving the public interest? Using
that frame, NBC's current rejection of the Dixie Chicks' ad paints a more
- We have a president (Bush)
who constantly promotes
war in Iraq.
- We have a major corporation
(Bechtel) that rebuilds that country.
- We have an oil corporation
(Chevron Corporation) that stands to gain from increased American control
(of oil resources) in the Middle East.
- We have a company (GE) that
builds military equipment and also owns one of the top television networks
(NBC) in the country.
- And this network won't run
ads for a Dixie Chicks' documentary that criticizes both the president and
Is This a Conspiracy Theory? A Look at Underlying
Does this seem like a giant leap from the censoring of a Dixie Chicks' ad? It
does until you start exploring the landscape of media ownership today. It's as
if we have wound back time and are now sitting at the turn of the last century
— are we living amongst new robber barons who maximize profits at the expense
of the public, government officials who have covert deals with big
corporations, and business interests that run the media to the detriment of the
people they purportedly serve? Again? Has it always been this way? Sure. Media
are businesses and they do have to make money. But that still doesn't make it
right for them to censor information that the public needs to make informed
decisions. A look at our own media history (ie, McCarthyism
R. Murrow addressed on the air when he could or the great robber
barons of the past and the answer of the Muckrakers) illustrates
vividly how powerful the media really are and the impact of propaganda on the
public. It also demonstrates how concerned citizens can address these issues.
My hope is that we can improve our media system and improve our society at
least in some small way by sharing important information.
What Matters in the End: Monitoring the Media
I don't know the exact reason why NBC is choosing not to run ads for that
documentary. They have run controversial materials in the past, such as ads for
Fahrenheit 911. Exploring the
underlying relationships does, however, yield a wealth of information and
perhaps an inquiry into reasons why we aren't seeing certain stories, issues,
or ideas presented in the dominant media in America.
Sasha Rae blogs about journalism at http://frustratedjournalist.blogspot.com.