US Alternative Media Journalists Face Government Surveillance

As a journalist and political activist I’ve often wondered which secret government databases might include my name. I am certainly not a secessionist or a political extremist (although I was once accused of being a “big government liberal”), but like many of my independent and alternative media colleagues, I sometimes worry that the stories I choose to cover or my outspoken editorials might be interpreted by the wrong people as “anti-government” in nature.

I am, of course, not opposed to my own government since I believe that, as per the preamble to the US Constitution, “We The People” are the government! This has been the basis of my activism and journalism throughout my entire life. In my opinion it’s up to the voters to hold their elected representatives accountable to the people.

Yet recent events now reveal that some non-violent activists and journalists have been the subject of surveillance by the US government, military and corporate intelligence agencies. As a prime example, I present the case of Shannon McLeish, a broadcaster and activist from the state of Florida.

Last year McLeish participated in Occupy Wall Street protests and rallies. She also co-hosts a radio program broadcast from Daytona Beach called “Air Occupy”. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, McLeish discovered that she’s been included on a government terrorist watch list.

“Air Occupy” has been broadcasting alternative progressive news and interviews since 2012. One of their recent guests was imminent scholar and social critic Noam Chomsky. Many of their shows have been devoted to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots, but most of the programming is simply an investigation of various social and economic justice issues. Topics on their show have included the Keystone XL Pipeline, fracking, home foreclosures, and the National Defense Authorization Act.

According to Liz Myers, co-host of the Air Occupy program, Youtube unexpectedly deleted the show’s channel last year after the producers did a program highlighting the civil rights implications of the NDAA. She explained the situation during a weekly national press briefing last month. According to Myers, Youtube claimed Air Occupy violated community standards.

My question is: What happened to the First Amendment? The Bill of Rights states that US citizens have a guaranteed right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We must ask ourselves, how did we as “The People” give government agencies and corporate entities the right to spy on and intimidate private individuals and journalists?

The result of this kind of government and private surveillance is indirect censorship. News stories and political issues become “too hot to handle” because they’re considered controversial. Under these restricted conditions journalists decide to hold back on coverage of important stories because they’re convinced that editors will reject their pitches, or they are worried that their names will be added to some secret government “watch list”.

The truth is, the United States is currently listed as 47th in terms of world press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders. Most of this lack of freedom is a direct result of corporate media consolidation all across the nation. I testified before the FCC on this issue as an advocate for public broadcasters, but Chairman Michael Powell and the conservative members of the FCC refused to acknowledge our complaints.

A small handful of corporate media conglomerates now own the vast majority of the national news market, and for whatever reason, the folks at Fox and Clear Channel do not want to support or promote progressive political programming. Instead, the airwaves have become deluged with hundreds of right-wing talk shows and extremist religious broadcasts.

Alternative media journalists will now have to face a double challenge. While attempting to work under almost impossible economic conditions due to the current corporate monopoly on the US media market, we will also be required to immunize ourselves from the stifling results of our overzealous security state.

We are all hoping that the First Amendment survives…