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The Herman-Chomsky Propaganda Model


Techniques Propaganda > The Herman-Chomsky Propaganda Model

Ownership and money | Funding and advertising | Sourcing of information and expertise | The covering fire of flak | Anti-communism and fear | See also


Noam Chomsky, a well-known social critic, and Edward Herman developed a model of how news gets shaped by a number of 'filters'. The general principle is that power is concentrated in relatively few un-elected individuals and corporations, and that this leads to selectivity, filtering and sanitization of news stories such that what reaches the general public is only that which supports the purpose of those few stakeholders, who typically seek to maximize personal power and corporate profit.

Ownership and money

It is in the nature of capitalism that companies compete with one another, that some grow and succeed while others fail and close. This eventually leads to markets being dominated by a few very large firms. Often, there is a single leader, a challenger and a bunch of also-rans (for example in the cola market).

Not only does ownership get concentrated, so also does power. When control of competition is lax, larger firms can use subterfuge and the simple weight of their capital and ability in order to sabotage or take over competitors.

Any company is there to serve the aims of its owner, which can be altruistic. But, when companies are publicly listed and shares traded, the nature of share markets means the owners now only seek increased the shorter-term financial gain of higher share price or dividends. A day trader on Wall Street cares little for employees or the greater good. This ripples down to motivation of senior officers, many of who have share options, to focus very largely on short-term reported gain.

The Herman-Chomsky model concentrates on the media industry where there are relatively few, large companies that dominate many of the news channels. Even with the advent of the internet, the control is gradually being regained, for example through ownership of key hubs and influencing control-oriented legislation.

Funding and advertising

As above, money is both essential for business survival and can be a motivator by itself. This leads to the question of how things get funded. For news and media, this can be either a subscription model or through advertising. Many newspapers and magazines use a combination model, with both a cover price and advertising that helps to reduce the price to consumers. TV uses varied methods, from the universal subscription model of the UK's BBC to advertising only to a combination. The internet may also use a variety, although many sites provide information free and depend on advertising for funds.

When advertising is a key source of funds, all articles, shows and so on will be viewed with regard to what advertising revenues may be gained from them. This then leads to caution on the part of editors and media managers not to rock the boat by airing issues that may upset their major advertisers (who will not be shy in withdrawing their funds if they feel they are being slighted in any way). Further, advertisers may deliberately support items which offer biased views that help them and which mislead the viewing public.

On the internet, search engine listing is a critical desirable factor and advertisers will be significantly influenced by this. The internet also gives far more immediate and accurate data that allows even more manipulative and finely-tuned advertising that will rapidly shape what is produced and published.

Sourcing of information and expertise

When news stories appear, where do they come from? With relatively few key sources for news, this also becomes a filter point. Smaller (and even larger) news organizations often source their news items from what is available via easy channels rather than sending reporters out on every street. The pressure to publish at minimum cost also means that very little time is spent in checking out how true these stories are.

It is very much in the interests of those in power to control the news. Companies and governments have large marketing and PR departments which create press releases that news organizations accept with little challenge. Organizations may also offer experts for interview who of course will support their employers' goals. Even academic research is often funded by interested parties such that 'scientific knowledge' may be full of bias.

There is a concentrating effect on the internet where, although many can write what they like, only a few gain significant attention. In the same way that industries end up dominated by a few major players, information channels also end up with a few powerful writers who may easily be seduced (or coerced) by powerful other parties.

The covering fire of flak

Sometimes information does leak out that those in power do not like. They still have plenty of options to respond to such problems, from generous compensation to unhappy customers whose complaints have gone viral, to corporate lawyers who threaten and perhaps sue those who oppose them, even to the point of causing financial ruin or imprisonment. Such situations then may become the stuff of cautionary tales which are used to point out the error in opposing 'big brother'.

There are many other forms of flak, such as publishing blogs, newsletters, making speeches, sponsorship, supporting legislation, phone calls and other methods of buying off, wearing down or punishing those who would oppose or otherwise create a nuisance. Done well, dissenters do not even bother to make themselves heard when they think of the personal risks they will be taking.

Anti-communism and fear

At the highest level, demons may be created that both transfix whole populations and which may be used as an excuse for measures such as increased security, media control and support of such as military industries. In America, for many years, communism was the demon. After the demise of the Soviet Republic, a new demon was found first in Iraq then in Islamist terrorism. The mood is further amplified by movies and TV series that dramatize fears.

Fear is a powerful driver and causes people to look for someone to save them. They will also accept things that otherwise they might not like. A general fear propagated throughout the population makes them more pliable. Communism and terrorism are just two ways to create fear. Other very realistic fears include loss of one's savings or house, loss of job, and so on. News headlines often play to such fear triggers.

See also

Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon

Herman, E.S. (1996). The Propaganda Model Revisited. Monthly Review, Vol.48, July-Aug.

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