USM professor brings Democracy Now! producer to speak on censorship

Criminology Professor Dusan Bjelic explains why he wanted to bring Democracy Now! producer, Nermeen Shaikh, to speak in Portland about censorship and the role of power in the media.
Casey Ledoux
Criminology Professor Dusan Bjelic explains why he wanted to bring Democracy Now! producer, Nermeen Shaikh, to speak in Portland about censorship and the role of power in the media.

Posted on September 23, 2013 in News
By Emma James

On Oct. 3, 2013 at the Space Gallery at 7:00 p.m., Nermeen Shaikh, news producer and co-anchor of DemocracyNOW!, a daily and independent global news hour, will speak with firsthand information on how the political process actually works.

For funding for the event, Professor Dusan Bjelić of USM’s criminology department applied to the Maine Humanities Council, but received a “very curious” rejection.

“[The rejection said] that in this proposal it’s not clear how an audience will benefit from that talk. So since I couldn’t get money from them I contacted the Space Gallery and someone suggested to contact ACLU. They were immediately interested, but the Maine Humanities Council couldn’t find the importance of it,” said Bjelić. “It is a hot topic and maybe they were not inclined to support an event that could be controversial.”

Controversy lies in the idea that, according to Bjelić, the questioning of ideas and perspectives is rarely covered by the corporate media, but this event will encourage people, specifically journalists, to put pressure on public figures to uncover what may otherwise remain elusive. Even so, Shaikh attributes the difficulty in doing so to the possible constraints of large news corporations.

“In any context, one can’t assume that those who wield power are those who give the most honest account of it,” said Shaik. “I think, as independent journalists, it’s much easier to be outside of whatever influences the larger corporate media may fall under. The important thing is to go to as many sources as possible.”

“Today more than ever, words are weapons,” said Bjelić. “Philosopher Michel Foucault said to people like ourselves who are involved in writing to ‘treat our truths as weapons’ and not as means to stabilize status quo.”

Shaikh agrees. “So you have to, as an independent journalist, turn to people who are the recipients, who have to live with the effects of whatever decisions are made by those who are in power and over whom…the influence is felt, they often have the least say,” Shaikh said.

For that reason, the event will deal with the potential issues of power, and how that translates to censorship, which essentially affects everybody without their knowledge, according to Bjelić.

“There are very rare instances where there is explicit censorship,” said Shaikh. “What I experience in any case is a sense of quiet outrage at the kinds of injustices that one sees perpetrated against all kinds of people in all kinds of contexts irrespective of my own subject position.”

Even in the classroom setting, Bjelić witnesses students being censored  in the educational process.

“I asked my students about holocaust and they immediately will tell me six-million Jews. When I ask them about American Holocaust they have no idea what I’m talking about,” said Bjelić. “We have 40 million Native Americans who have been killed in the United States since Columbus, and it’s a far more significant holocaust for us than European Holocaust.”

Bjelić believes that students in particular, who may justify ignorance of censorship because they don’t see it directly affecting them, are some of the most affected.

“They don’t know about it because of censorship in the educational process,” said Bjelić. “They don’t have vital information about their own history. Censoring a press is just one domain of overall censorship in the educational process.”

Shaikh understands that it is very true that censorship does not affect students in this very moment, but it will.

“The kind of world that we live in and the world that these students will grow up [in] once they graduate and get jobs, they’ll be profoundly affected by all kinds of decisions that are being made,” Shaikh said. These decisions cover a range from waging a war to raising minimum wage.

“Not seeing this as an important fact means also not seeing how important it is to stop global warming; how to stop extermination of natural species; not to stop further gap between wealthy and poor; not to stop melting of polar ice. In other words, not stopping the disintegration and destruction of the planet,” said Bjelić. “That all depends on whether or not power is serving the interest of the people and the planet or corporate and military complex.”