The Top 10 Censored Stories of 2017

(First in a Two-Part Series)

    icon Feb 08, 2018
    icon 0 Comments

The investigative research team Project Censored, which sprang out of a journalism workshop at Sonoma State University, defines censorship as “…anything that interferes with the free flow of information in a society that purports to uphold free press principles.” Sponsored by the Media Freedom Foundation every year since 1976, the Project selects the 25 “most censored stories” on the planet; and every year since 1985 The Review has published their findings, which we are doing again this year in two installments, listed democratically in order of importance according to the Project’s judges.

The presentation of the Top 10 Censored Stories of 2016-2017 extends the tradition originated by Professor Carl Jensen and his Sonoma State University students in 1976, while reflecting how the expansion of the Project to include affiliate faculty and students from campuses across North America has made the Project even more diverse and robust.

During this year’s cycle, Project Censored reviewed over 300 Validated Independent News stories (VINs) representing the collective efforts of 310 college students and 27 professors from 12 college and university campuses that participate in our affiliate program. We will look at this stories over the expanse of a two-part series, ending with the top five stories in our next edition of The Review.

#6.  Antibiotic Resistant “Superbugs” Threaten Health and Foundations of Modern Medicine   

Pharmaceutical companies that produce antibiotics are creating dangerous superbugs when their factories leak industrial waste, Madlen Davies of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in September 2016. Superbugs are bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics. Pharmaceutical factories in China and India—the places where the majority of the world’s antibiotics are manufactured—are releasing “untreated waste fluid” into local soils and waters, leading to increases in antimicrobial resistance that diminish the effectiveness of antibiotics and threaten the foundations of modern medicine. A number of the companies have established links to US markets.

After bacteria in the environment become resistant, they can exchange genetic material with other germs, spreading antibiotic resistance around the world, according to an assessment issued by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which served as the basis for Davies’s news report. Davies described a case in which a drug-resistant bacterium that originated in India in 2014 has since been found in seventy other countries.

Superbugs resulting from pharmaceutical pollution have already killed an estimated 25,000 people across Europe—thus globally posing “as big a threat as terrorism,” according to a UK National Health Service official, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies. In a May 2014 report, Martin Khor quoted Dr. Keiji Fukuda, who coordinated the World Health Organization’s work on antimicrobial resistance between 2010 and 2016. According to Fukuda, “A post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can kill, far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

At the heart of the issue is how to motivate pharmaceutical companies to improve their production practices. With strong demand for antibiotics, the companies continue to profit despite the negative consequences of their actions. The EPHA assessment recommended five responses that major purchasers of medicines could implement to help stop antibiotic pollution. Among these recommendations are blacklisting pharmaceutical companies that contribute to the spread of superbugs through irresponsible practices, and promoting legislation to incorporate environmental criteria into the industry’s good manufacturing practices.

In 2015, World Health Organization head Margaret Chan cautioned that antibiotic-resistant superbugs may signal “the end of modern medicine as we know it.” Noting that superbugs “haunt” hospitals and intensive care units around the world, Chan reported that if current trends continue, “sophisticated interventions,” including organ transplants, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy, and care of pre-term infants,” will become more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake”, as common infections “will once again kill.

In May 2016, Scientific American reported that a “dangerous new form of antibiotic resistance has spread to the United States.” Bacteria infecting a Pennsylvania woman with a urinary tract infection proved resistant to colistin, which is known as an “antibiotic of last resort.” Citing a report published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Melinda Wenner Moyer wrote that “the findings have sounded alarm bells” among scientists who fear that “common infections will soon be untreatable.”  Wenner also noted that in May 2016 the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they had discovered colistin-resistant bacteria in an American pig, suggesting that colistin-resistant bacteria have reached American livestock. If the newly discovered mcr-1 gene is picked up by other bacteria that are already resistant to multiple drugs, then “the world could suddenly be faced with pan-drug-resistant bacteria.”

As Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, told Scientific American, the results would be “a royal flush—the infection has an unbeatable hand.”

Although the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes is well documented in scientific publications, there is little to no coverage on superbugs in the corporate press. What corporate news coverage there is tends to exaggerate the risks and consequences of natural outbreaks—as seen during the Ebola scare in the US in 2014—rather than reporting on the preventable spread of superbugs by irresponsible pharmaceutical companies.

Melinda Wenner Moyer, “Dangerous New Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Reach U.S.,” Scientific American, May 27, 2016,

Madlen Davies, “How Big Pharma’s Industrial Waste is Fuelling the Rise in Superbugs Worldwide,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, September 15, 2016, Katie Morley and Madlen Davies, “Superbugs Killing More People Than Breast Cancer, Trust Warns,” Telegraph, December 10, 2016,

#7 The Toll of US Navy Training on Wildlife in the North Pacific

US Navy training activities are deadly for marine mammals in the North Pacific. In a five-year period, the US Navy has killed, injured, or harassed whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and other marine wildlife in the North Pacific Ocean nearly twelve million times—legally, according to a report for Truthout by Dahr Jamail. The West Coast Action Alliance (WCAA), a coalition that aims to protect the nation’s national and state parks, airspace, and waters, combined data from the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Letter of Authorization for the number of “takes” of marine mammals caused by Navy exercises. A “take” is a type of harm to an animal, with impacts ranging from harassment, resulting in behavioral changes, to death.

The WCAA found that, over a five-year period, the US Navy has been responsible for more than 11.8 million takes of marine mammal species in four North Pacific areas of operation, a figure that Karen Sullivan, a WCAA spokesperson and former endangered species biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, described as “staggering.”

The Navy currently does not allow expert civilians or US Fish and Wildlife officials on board their vessels to monitor impacts during training exercises. Instead, Jamail wrote, “the ‘technology’ the Navy uses to ensure whether marine mammals are present in the vicinity of their exercises is the same ‘technology’ that has been used since the 17th century—two lookouts at the bow of the ship.”

With little oversight on Navy training activities, the public is left in the dark regarding their environmental impacts, including especially how Navy operations impact fish in the North Pacific and marine life at the bottom of the food chain. There has been almost no coverage of these impacts in the corporate press. In July 2016, the Washington Post reported on a federal appeals court ruling in San Francisco, which found that the Navy’s use of loud, low-frequency sonar had violated marine mammal protection laws.

Dahr Jamail, “Navy Allowed to Kill or Injure Nearly 12 Million Whales, Dolphins, Other Marine Mammals in Pacific,” Truthout, May 16, 2016,

#8 Maternal Mortality a Growing Threat in the US

Each year, more than 65,000 pregnant women in the United States suffer life-threatening complications, including physical and psychological conditions aggravated by pregnancy, and more than 600 die from pregnancy-related causes. Elizabeth Dawes Gay reported that inadequate health care in rural areas and racial disparities are drivers of this maternal health crisis. Nationally, African American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, with rates even higher in parts of the US that Gay characterized as “pockets of neglect,” such as Georgia, where the 2011 maternal mortality rate of 28.7 per 100,000 live births was nearly double the national average.

Women’s Policy Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization, hosted a briefing in April 2016 for US maternal mortality experts to address problems and present solutions to a panel of congressional staffers, federal employees, and women’s health advocates. “The U.S. is the only nation in the developed world with a rising maternal mortality rate,” Rep. Lois Capps stated at the meeting. Dr. Keisha Callins identified issues that contribute to the rising maternal mortality rate, including “provider shortages, lack of physical access to care, . . . low educational attainment, poverty, poor access to healthy foods, neighborhood violence and stress.” The prevalence of caesarian section (C-section) delivery is another factor. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10–15 percent of births should be C-section deliveries; in the US, one in three babies is delivered by C-section.

Beyond pain and embarrassment, the financial costs of these sometimes preventable conditions are also great. According to Butler, citing the website Healthcare Bluebook, “the typical price for a vaginal hysterectomy, one of the most common fixes for uterine prolapse, is about $14,400, including hospital costs, while a bladder repair surgery for incontinence runs about $28,000.” For those who opt not to have surgery, adult incontinence products can be an equally large strain on the wallet. And companies are cashing in; in fact, Mother Jones reports that the industry is “projected to grow from $1.8 billion in 2015 to $2.7 billion by 2020, and it is expected to catch up to the baby diaper market within a decade.”

Elizabeth Dawes Gay, “Congressional Briefing Puts U.S. Maternity on Exam Table,” Women’s eNews, April 15, 2016,

Kiera Butler, “The Scary Truth About Childbirth,” Mother Jones, January/February, 2017,

#9 DNC Claims Right to Select Presidential Candidate

In June 2016, Beck & Lee, a legal firm based in Miami, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of supporters of Bernie Sanders against the Democratic National Committee and its former chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, alleging that the DNC broke legally-binding neutrality agreements in the Democratic primaries by strategizing to make Hillary Clinton the nominee before a single vote was cast.

Transcripts from the hearing on the lawsuit, which took place in a federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in April 2017, document the DNC’s lack of commitment to key articles of its own charter. As Michael Sainato reported for the Observer, in that hearing, attorneys for the DNC claimed that Article V, Section 4 of the DNC Charter—which instructs the DNC chair and staff to ensure neutrality in the Democratic presidential primaries—is actually “a discretionary rule” that the DNC “didn’t need to adopt to begin with.”

(The relevant text of the DNC charter states: “the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.” Article V, Section 4, The Charter & The Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States, as Amended by the Democratic National Committee, August 28, 2015.)

Later in the hearing, a DNC attorney asserted that it would have been within the DNC’s rights to “go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.” Bruce Spiva, the DNC attorney, said, “That’s not the way it was done. But they could have. And that would have also been their right.” Furthermore, as Sainato reported for the Observer, the DNC attorneys argued that specific language used in the DNC charter—including the terms “impartial” and “evenhanded”—could not be interpreted in a court of law. Describing the plaintiff’s case as “inchoate,” Spiva asserted that any judicial effort to “define what constitutes evenhandedness and impartiality” would “drag the Court . . . into a political question and a question of how the party runs its own affairs.”

In response, the attorney representing Sanders’s supporters, Jared Beck, told the judge, “Your Honor, I’m shocked to hear that we can’t define what it means to be evenhanded and impartial. If that were the case, we couldn’t have courts. I mean, that’s what courts do every day, is decide disputes in an evenhanded and impartial manner.” Earlier Beck argued that the running of elections in a fair and impartial manner was not only a “bedrock assumption” of democracy but also a binding commitment for the DNC: “That’s what the Democratic National Committee’s own charter says,” he told the court. “It says it in black and white. And they can’t deny that.” Furthermore, Beck contended, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz and other DNC staff had stated “over and over again in the media” that “they were, in fact, acting in compliance with the charter.”

As Sainato has documented in a series of previous reports for the Observer, the hearings in the class-action lawsuit against the DNC and its chair follow on the heels of the release of 20,000 DNC emails from January 2015 to May 2016, which WikiLeaks first made public in July 2016. Most of the released emails came from seven prominent DNC staff members. As Sainato reported in July 2016, the leaked emails show that, “[i]nstead of treating Sanders as a viable candidate for the Democratic ticket, the DNC worked against him and his campaign to ensure Clinton received the nomination.” Specifically, Sainato wrote, the release provided further evidence that the DNC “broke its own charter” by favoring Clinton as the nominee “long before any votes were cast.”

As Censored 2018 goes to print, the lawsuit appears to be moving forward to discovery. In that stage of the case, prominent DNC figures, including its former chair, Wasserman Schultz, would likely be called to testify in court on their actions and decisions during the Democratic primary.

Michael Sainato, “Wikileaks Proves Primary was Rigged: DNC Undermined Democracy,” Observer, July 22, 2016,

Ruby Cramer, “DNC and Clinton Campaign Operations Started Merging Before Sanders Dropped Out,” BuzzFeed, July 27, 2016,

#10 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.”

As Kevin Collier reported for Vocativ, Access Now documented fifty-three instances in 2016 in which national governments shut down the Internet for all or part of a country, “throttled” access speeds to make the Internet essentially unusable, or blocked specific communication methods. These fifty-three instances represent a sharp uptick in government shutdowns of the Internet, following on from the fifteen shutdowns identified by Access Now in 2015. As Collier noted, Access Now uses a “conservative metric,” counting “repeated, similar outages”—like those which occurred during Gabon’s widely criticized Internet “curfew”—as a single instance. (The Vocativ report included a dynamic map chart, designed by Kaitlyn Kelly, that vividly depicts Internet shutdowns around the world, month by month for all of 2016, as documented by Access Now.)

Many countries intentionally blacked out Internet access during elections and to quell protest. 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.

The biggest losses were in India (an estimated $968 million), Saudi Arabia ($465 million), and Morocco ($320 million). The author of the Brookings study, Darrell West, cautioned that the figures are only estimates, but that the actual economic costs are likely to be even higher. “The $2.4 billion figure is a conservative estimate that likely understates the actual economic damage,” West wrote, because it does not include “lost tax revenues associated with blocked digital access, impact on worker productivity, barriers to business expansion connected with these shutdowns, or the loss of investor, consumer, and business confidence resulting from such disruptions.” Overall, the Brookings study noted, “As long as political authorities continue to disrupt internet activity, it will be difficult for impacted nations to reap the full benefits of the digital economy.”

Devin Coldewey, “Study Estimates Cost of Last Year’s Internet Shutdowns at $2.4 Billion,” TechCrunch, October 24, 2016,

Kevin Collier, “Governments Loved to Shut Down the Internet in 2016—Here’s Where,” Vocativ, December 23, 2016,


Share on:

Comments (0)

icon Login to comment