What is the Propaganda Model?

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3rd Apr 2019 Media Reference this

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When Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky discussed the “propaganda model” in the book called “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” from the political economy viewpoint. They pointed out that money and power can filter some of the information, allowing the government and politicians to spread their words to the public. Although the purpose of media is not for propaganda only, the main proportion of it is used for propaganda (Herman& Chomsky, 1988). They argue that every piece of original daily news in America is under strict checking before they can be published, the news gatekeepers including ownership, advertiser and sources. From this point, the media are totally lost in serving those who can control and support them, representing the interest of the wealthy and powerful class in the society. They called the checking process as five “filters” of the news, which is also the central notion of the “propaganda model”. The news”filters” are ranging from money dominators, advertisers, sources, to “flak” and “anticommunism”. Through analysing the “five filters”, they are dividing the “propaganda model” into two types: the first pattern is characterized as checked through the official censorship to serve those who are the dominant class in the society. While the latter propaganda type is difficult to be noticed, the media always discloses scandal by the authorities and criticized the government to convince the public. Once the general public have trusted the media, they will naturally follow the media and support those government policies that media is advocating. That is publicity gambit played between the media and the dominant class. The latter type is more important in Chomsky’s opinion.

The first filter illustrates that the investors monopolized the media. Take the newspaper for example, fierce competition in the profit driven free market result in emphasizing more about the readers. Moreover, the progress of technique means the cost is increasing, for the working class newspaper, the cost is relatively low, thus then, and they have to quit the competitive market. Since the media entered the profit-driven market, the capital of the giant media firms are generally controlled by the large enterprise, the board, the stockholders and the bankers in the enterprise are caring more about the profit rather than the quality of the news. Thereby, it is not surprising that the media giants are tied up with wealthy circles.

The media are highly reliance on the advertisers in the profit-driven market, which means the choosing of the advertisers, will influence the media profoundly. On one hand, the considerable revenue from advertising will naturally increase the popular media product. In other word, it is impossible to get the support from the advertisers without the ratings guarantee. As Herman and Chomsky (Herman & Chomsky, 1988.) argued in their book that it was the buying power from the audience attracting the media most. As a result, it is not difficult to understand why the newspaper is going backwards and in crisis while the society is developing. On the other hand,

Advertisers often discriminate both the working class and radical media politically (Herman & Chomsky, 1988), in which the advertisers would rather consider more about those who have great purchasing power than the poor.

News source is the third filter. Sources form the government and the company can meet the need of media organization: using the reliable sources from the government and the company, can ensure the objective of news reporting; on the other hand, through getting the news sources from the government and the giant company, the publications can cut out a great deal of unnecessary expenditure spending on investigating other unreliable sources.

Herman and Chomsky called the fourth filter as “flak and the enforces” (Herman& Chomsky, 1988, p.26.), that is, the government and the major corporation are able to put pressure on the media. Here, “flak” means bad feedback of a media programme. The media will pay great price for the negative response; they have to defend themselves in or out of the institution, even in the court. Moreover, the advertisers will pull the advertisement as well. According to Chomsky, the “flak” is generally from the person in authority. Under such pressures, the media can only represent the interest of the investors.

The fifth filter is called “anticommunism as a control mechanism”. In here, they are referring to the media are advocating “communism” policies (policies that are threatening the property profit, especially the America property profit) as a threat to the bourgeoisie. As stated above, the first three “filters” are more important in the propaganda theory.

Essentially speaking, the methodology of the “propaganda model” is the same as other theories; they are beginning with loads of hypotheses, and then go back to the assumption through personal experience (Klaehn, 2003). Although Jeffery (2003) argues that the propaganda model is a concept result from the analysis on the relation of media and the authorities systematically and logically. However, different from other research, Chomsky’s evidences seem to be lacking of persuasion.

In addition, this model is mainly focusing on the newsroom structure, it cannot be used to analyse the general journalism practice. Besides, although Klaehn has explained some criticism about the difference between “gatekeeper” theory and “propaganda model”, and argued the propaganda model is only used for the analysis of the framework but not the psychological process of the media (Klaehn, 2005). There are some similarities still can be found between them: the aim of the news agency is to satisfy the advertisers rather than attract the audiences under the profit-driven market; every piece of news need to be revised step by step before being printed; in order to reduce the cost, a large number of news agencies are trying to decrease the investigative content in order to avoid being criticized or lawsuits.

Obviously, Chomsky’s “propaganda model” is largely focusing on the American journalism in the Cold War period. He argues that the “propaganda model” played an important role during the Cold War period; the media is surly the core of the model. He is not only suspecting that the media is stifling public criticism of the government, keeping the public away from the truth; but even considering that the media is responsible for protracting the Cold War. The “propaganda model” is widely applicable in America because of the news culture in the US (Chomsky, 2007).Most of the media group in the US are belonging to the private ownership and not subsidized by the government, almost financially independent. Large amounts of the media are controlled by a limited number of big companies, who are also getting on well with the government through the political donations on the trade of weapons. Consequently, they are sometimes involving in the national policy making as well. Meanwhile, the sources of news are required to be obtained through the official channels, such as the press conference or the personal interview. In order to get the first hand information, the journalists need to be getting on well with the government agencies, which will also affect the media attitude towards the politics. From the Chomsky’s “propaganda model” it can be seen that in order to strengthen the objective image to the public, the media ownership are using the way of conglomeration and merger of small media companies to make grater in power, influence, stature, or reputation. Sometimes, the government played an accomplice role in this process, charging some small media companies to let them bankruptcy because of the heavily cost of the lawsuit, while the giant media is benefit from the influence and power. Thus it can be seen that the media and the government in the US are closely connected. Because of that, media in the US are always exercising self-censorship. Although Chomsky uses the “propaganda model” to criticize the media in the Europe, it is lacking of generalizability after all.

Klaehn has written on her article that there was a common criticism on the “propaganda model”: the propaganda model is to be analyzed under the hypothesized condition that there is no difference among the internal the ruling class, but that will never happen in the reality (Klaehn, J. 2002). As Chomsky and Herman have explained in their book, it is similar to the emphasis within the book, the propaganda of some authoritative country is different to the media of the U.S. In fact, spirited debates is allowed and encouraged in the U.S., only when it does not cross the line. (Herman & Chomsky, 1988). Moreover, they have made another further explanation that “we used the concepts of “worthy” and “unworthy” victims to describe this dichotomization, with a trace of irony as the varying treatment was clearly related to political and economic advantage rather than anything like actual worth” (Herman, 2000).

Talking about this, Colin Sparks, from the University of Westminster has suspected whether this model can be used to explain every context of the media in the UK. Colin Sparks (Sparks, 2007) took the example of the Iraq War reporting in the UK and argued there were lots of researches showing that many media in the UK doubted the legitimacy and appropriateness of the Iraq war. He believes “propaganda model” neglect the complication of capitalist society. From the economical aspects, the conflicting interests among the different department within the capitalism will be everlasting.

It is well known that the US media nearly monopolize the media industry in the world. The “propaganda model” has archived the largest utility during the international news communication. However, media in other countries are not always following what the Americans want. When the reporting does harm the interest of the country or the reporting is iniquitously unjust, each media organization in the single country will put up resistance. UK is not an exception.

20th March, 2003, the allied forces of US and Britain started the Iraq war without the authorization of the United Nations’ Security Council. During the prewar and postwar time, the US media has made every attempt to advocate the “propaganda model”, controlling and intervening the news reporting, in order to ask for support.

Although both the United Kingdom and the United States is the staunchest ally during the war, the way of reporting the war was very different because of their different attitude towards the Iraq war. Comparing with the “patriotism” reporting in the America, news in the UK was obviously impartial. Not only reporting the British and American forces attacked the Iraq forces, but also relayed the civilian casualties,Moreover,they also made some independent comment on the war, even some criticism were totally different from the America announcement.

Brookes and Lewis has analyzed the British Television Media; they choose the four main News channels as a sample of how they reported the Iraqi War, including BBC 1, ITV News, Channel4News and Sky channels. They were mainly focusing on three aspects. Whether Iraq owned weapons of mass destruction, the viewpoint of whether Iraqi civilians wish to be liberate from the governance of Saddam and whether the nature of Saddam’s politics was vicious. The result showed 86% of report tends to agree that Iraq does own weapons of mass destruction (Lewis & Brookes, 2004). Those who believe warfare can liberate Iraq are double of the amount of the reports of attack Iraq. More than half of the reports believe that Saddam’s policies makes Iraq civilian feels they are under pressure and pain. Even channel4 news report seems to have a fair opinion; Brookes and Lewis still give a conclusion of British Television is biased towards the government.

In addition, Couldry and Doweny (Allan & Zelizer, 2004) analyzed seven newspapers report before the Iraq War started (2003 January to Mid February). They mainly focus on whether media should investigate of the reason of starting a war. Result shown that the right-wing newspaper like The Times, The Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail might or might not support the starting of the war. Newspapers such as Daily Mirror, Independence, Guardiance is considered to be focus on the benefit of the nation and is opposite to the west-ring newspaper is doubting the reason and moral standard on the reason of starting a war towards Iraq.

Robertson (Robertson, 2004) chose two Scotland papers The Herald and The Scotsman as the subject of the study and analyses on the report that have been done on the Iraqi war. Its purpose is to analyzing whether the Scotland newspaper is playing a role of watchdog or lapdog. The study shows that both newspaper report the action have been taken in the Iraqi war and the result they have achieve during the war. In comparison, the reports related to the destruction of the facilities in Iraq, the impact towards the public hygiene, environment and social order is relatively less covered within the reports. There are also 2775 cases in total mention about the victims, even those who have rarely cover the death of Iraqi civilian, Arabs and Muslim people.

Based on the research from the scholars, there are some specific antiwar news. For example, Daily Mirror in the UK has published two pictures in the front page, which is George Bush with a smile in one picture with a crying Iraq woman on the war wrecks in another picture, with the title “he likes it”; moreover, Daily Mirror criticized that the Iraq war was “pointless”, “horrible”, and appealed to the UK government to stop the war. In addition, The Independent and other newspaper in the UK had replied to Bush’s announcement about “the war will last for no matter how long it will require” on the 28th, March, and it was widely accepted that “the longer the war lasts, the heavier the economic losses will be suffering, the more political price will be paid as well”. Besides, on the 25th April, the former president of BBC – Greg Dyke had delivered a speech in the University of London, he criticized that the news from the America media was over impartial and could not illustrate all the truth from the battlefield, which Greg Dyke was called “distorted patriotism”.

During the war time, the “propaganda model” was not applicable to explain the media in the UK; on the contrary, it works on few specific cases nowadays. In the 24th, November, 2009, a committee was set up in the UK to investigate the legality of the Iraq war. The result of the investigation will be put out after the election around the end of 2010. The investigation time and scope will be arranging from 2001 until the end of July, 2009, including every stage the British army prepare for the war, go to the war and pullout. Many former government high officers will involve in the inquiry as well.

To all appearances, it is difficult to use the “propaganda model” to explain this. According to the “propaganda model”, in order to be trusted by the public, the media disclosures scandals of the authorities and criticized the government. Different from this time, once the commission has investigated that the Iraq war is illegal, most of the media organisations that had supported the war would be accused. Instead of gaining the belief from the public, there is no denying that the media are just digging their own graves.

In my opinion, the news of Iraq war investigative commission just follows the “propaganda mode”, getting the trust from the public through criticising the government without being noticed. It is a fight among the political party results in setting the investigative commission. Firstly, talking about the announcement that the investigation result will be published after the election. On one hand, this timing will not diminish the effect of the political propaganda; on the other hand, an opened interrogation was conducted by an investigative group on the commanders and politicians who is involved in the Iraq war, the purpose of that is to advertise and to build up the publicity for Gordon Brown during the election.

Secondly, the result of the investigation will make no sense. The Guardian (Sparrow, 2009) argued that the Iraq inquiry was not the responsibility for the investigative commission to judge whether the Iraq war is legal or not. In addition, there is no lawyer and judge in the commission team and all the team members are chosen by Gordon Brown, thus then the so called “investigation” is just conducting in a perfunctory way.

If there is a real need to investigate in the lies and acts the British and the American government have done in the Iraq war, it is then necessary to be carry out by international organisations, such as UN Commission on Human Rights or International Criminal Tribunal. The commission will not dig out the crime that they have done, but in fact they cover up the facts from the public.

To sum up the above arguments, it is not surprising that the “propaganda model” has been strongly criticized by some people. Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model does not explain every media in every context; it is too rigid in its causal argument and lack of accurate support.

Yet we live in a world, changes take place all the time, there is no adaptable news model that is suitable forever. Even in a country, as media in the UK, there would be a variety of news reporting towards one event. Although some of the news can be analysed by the “propaganda model” while others’ cannot. In a word, the “propaganda model” is lack of practicalness and general applicability.

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