Propaganda model

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The propaganda model is a theory advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky that alleges systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes.


[edit] Overview

First presented in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the "Propaganda model" views the private media as businesses selling a product — readers and audiences (rather than news) — to other businesses (advertisers). Describing the media's "societal purpose", Chomsky writes, "... the study of institutions and how they function must be scrupulously ignored, apart from fringe elements or a relatively obscure scholarly literature".[1] The theory postulates five general classes of "filters" that determine the type of news that is presented in news media. These five are:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium's funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Anti-communist ideology

The first three are generally regarded by the authors as being the most important.

Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles which the model postulates as the cause of media biases.[2]

[edit] The filters

[edit] Ownership

Herman and Chomsky argue that since mainstream media outlets are either large corporations or part of conglomerates (e.g. Westinghouse or General Electric), the information presented to the public will be biased with respect to these interests. Such conglomerates frequently extend beyond traditional media fields, and thus have extensive financial interests that may be endangered when certain information is widely publicized. According to this reasoning, news items that most endanger the corporate financial interests of those who own the media will face the greatest bias and censorship.

It then follows that if to maximize profit means sacrificing news objectivity, then the news sources that ultimately survive must be fundamentally biased, with regard to news in which they have a conflict of interest.

[edit] Funding

Since the mainstream media depend heavily on advertising revenues to survive, the model suggests that the interests of advertisers come before reporting the news. Chomsky and Herman argue that, as a business, a newspaper has a product which it offers to an audience. The product is composed of the affluent readers who buy the newspaper — who also comprise the educated decision-making sector of the population — while the audience includes the businesses that pay to advertise their goods. According to this "filter", the news itself is nothing more than "filler" to get privileged readers to see the advertisements which makes up the real content, and will thus take whatever form is most conducive to attracting educated decision-makers. Stories that conflict with their "buying mood", it is argued, will tend to be marginalized or excluded, along with information that presents a picture of the world that collides with advertisers' interests. The theory argues that the people buying the newspaper are themselves the product which is sold to the businesses that buy advertising space; the news itself has only a marginal role as the product.

[edit] Sourcing

The third filter concerns the mass media's need for a continuous flow of information to fill their demand for daily news. In an industrialized economy where consumers demand information on numerous worldwide events unfolding simultaneously, they argue that this task can only be filled by major business and government sectors that have the necessary material resources. This includes mainly The Pentagon and other governmental bodies. Chomsky and Herman then argue that a symbiotic relationship arises between the media and parts of government which is sustained by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest. On the one hand, government and news-promoters strive to make it easier for news organizations to buy their services; according to the authors (p. 22), they

  • provide them with facilities in which to gather
  • give journalists advance copies of speeches and forthcoming reports
  • schedule press conferences at hours well-geared to news deadlines
  • write press releases in usable language
  • carefully organize their press conferences and "photo opportunity" sessions

On the other hand, the media become reluctant to run articles that will harm corporate interests that provide them with the resources that the media depend upon. Chomsky and Herman state (p. 22),

It is very difficult to call authorities on whom one depends for daily news liars, even if they tell whoppers.

This theoretical relationship also gives rise to a "moral division of labor", in which "officials have and give the facts," and "reporters merely get them". Journalists are then supposed to adopt an uncritical attitude that makes it possible for them to accept corporate values without experiencing cognitive dissonance.

During the year 2005 in the USA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticised the George W. Bush administration for the preparation and distribution of videos which falsely give the impression of being interviews made independently of the administration. The New York Times reported that "more than 20 federal agencies, including the State Department and the Defense Department, now create fake news clips. The Bush administration spent $254 million in its first four years on contracts with public relations firms, more than double the amount spent by the Clinton administration."[8] In April 2008, the New York Times revealed how the US Pentagon and Defense Department traded access to valuable information and powerful decision makers to ex-military officers, many now military contractors, who were parroting administration talking-points and providing favorable "analysis" regarding the Iraq War and related topics on/in major television, radio and print media.[3]

[edit] Flak

For Chomsky and Herman "flak" refers to negative responses to a media statement or program. The term "flak" has been used to describe what Chomsky and Herman see as targeted efforts to discredit organizations or individuals who disagree with or cast doubt on the prevailing assumptions which Chomsky and Herman view as favorable to established power (e.g., "The Establishment"). Unlike the first three "filtering" mechanisms — which are derived from analysis of market mechanisms — flak is characterized by concerted and intentional efforts to manage public information.

Flak from the powerful can be either direct or indirect. The direct could include the following hypothetical scenarios:

  • Letters or phone calls from the White House to Dan Rather or William S. Paley
  • Inquiries from the FCC to major television networks requesting documents used to plan and assemble a program
  • Messages from irate executives representing advertising agencies or corporate sponsors to media officials threatening retaliation if not granted on-air reply time.

The powerful can also work on the media indirectly by:

  • Complaints delivered en masse to their own constituencies (e.g., stockholders, employees) about media bias,
  • Generation of mass advertising that does the same,
  • By funding watchdog groups or think tanks engineered to expose and attack deviations in media coverage that endanger vital elite interests.
  • By funding political campaigns that elect politicians who will be more willing to curb any such media deviations.

[edit] Anti-Ideologies; substitutes for anti-communism

A final filter is anti-ideology. Anti-ideologies exploit public fear and hatred of groups that pose a potential threat, either real, exaggerated, or imagined. Communism once posed the primary threat according to the model. Communism and socialism were portrayed by their detractors as endangering freedoms of speech, movement, press, etc. They argue that such a portrayal was often used as a means to silence voices critical of elite interests.

With the Soviet Union's collapse, proponents of the propaganda model have argued that the functionality and credibility of anti-communism has been fundamentally compromised. Proponents state that new, more functional anathemas have arisen to take its place. Chomsky and Herman argue that one possible replacement for anti-communism seems to have emerged in the form of "anti-terrorism".

[edit] Empirical support

Following the theoretical exposition of the propaganda model, Manufacturing Consent contains a large section where the authors seek to test their hypotheses. If the propaganda model is right and the filters do influence media content, a particular form of bias would be expected — one that systematically favors corporate interests.

They also looked at what they perceived as naturally-occurring "historical control groups" where two events, similar in their relevant properties but differing in the expected media attitude towards them, are contrasted using objective measures such as coverage of key events (measured in column inches) or editorials favoring a particular issue (measured in number).

Finally, the authors examine what points of view they believe are expressed in the media. In one case, the authors examined over fifty of Stephen Kinzer's articles about Nicaragua in the New York Times. They criticize Kinzer for failing to quote a single person in Nicaragua who is pro-Sandinista and contrast this with independent polls reporting only 9% support for all the opposition parties taken together. Chomsky states

[The polls] show that all of the opposition parties in Nicaragua combined had the support of only 9 percent of the population, but they have 100 percent of Stephen Kinzer.[4]

Based on this example and select others, the authors argue that such a persistent bias can only be explained by a model like the one they advocate.

[edit] Applications

Since the publication of Manufacturing Consent, both Herman and Chomsky have adopted the theory and have given it a prominent role in their writings, lectures, and theoretical frameworks. Chomsky, in particular, has made extensive use of its explanative power to lend support to his own interpretations of mainstream media attitudes towards a wide array of events, including the following:

Herman, seeking to build upon a more institutionalized framework to analyze mainstream media functioning, joined the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), which has since 1986 critiqued, documented, and statistically analyzed what it alleges is media bias and censorship.

With the emergence of the World Wide Web as a cheap and potentially wide-ranging means of communication, a number of independent websites have surfaced which adopt the propaganda model to subject media to close scrutiny. Several examples of these are, Free Press, FAIR and Media Lens, a British-based site authored by David Edwards and David Cromwell.[5]

In May, 2007, both Chomsky and Herman spoke at the University of Windsor in Canada summarizing developments and responding to criticisms related to the model.[6] Both authors stated they felt the propaganda model is still applicable today (Herman said even more so than when it was originally introduced), although they did suggest a few areas where they believe it falls short and needs to be extended in light of recent developments.[7]

Chomsky has commented in the "ChomskyChat Forum" on the applicability of the Propaganda Model to the media environment of other countries:

That's only rarely been done in any systematic way. There is work on the British media, by a good U[niversity] of Glasgow media group. And interesting work on British Central America coverage by Mark Curtis in his book Ambiguities of Power. There is work on France, done in Belgium mostly, also a recent book by Serge Halimi (editor of Le Monde diplomatique). There is one very careful study by a Dutch graduate student, applying the methods Ed Herman used in studying US media reaction to elections (El Salvador, Nicaragua) to 14 major European newspapers. [...] Interesting results. Discussed a bit (along with some others) in a footnote in chapter 5 of my book "Deterring Democracy[".][2]

[edit] Criticism

[edit] The Anti-Chomsky Reader

Eli Lehrer, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former editor of The American Enterprise magazine, contributed a critique of the Propaganda Model to The Anti-Chomsky Reader.

[edit] Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

Gareth Morley argues in an article in Inroads: A Journal of Opinion that widespread coverage of Israeli mistreatment of protesters as compared with little coverage of similar (or much worse) events in sub-Saharan Africa is poorly explained.[8]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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