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In their book 'Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media' (Pantheon, 1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky set out their “propaganda model of media control”. In a subsequent article written in 1996, Edward Herman explains the genesis of the model:
“We had long been impressed with the regularity with which the media operate within restricted assumptions, depend heavily and uncritically on elite information sources, and participate in propaganda campaigns helpful to elite interests. In trying to explain why they do this we looked for structural factors as the only possible root of systematic behaviour and performance patterns.” (Edward Herman, ‘The propaganda model revisited,’ Monthly Review, July 1996)
In identifying these “structural factors”, Herman and Chomsky list five news “filters” through which “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public”. (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon, 1988, p.2):
1: the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms
2: advertising as the primary income source of the mass media
3: the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power
4: "flak" as a means of disciplining the media
5: "anticommunism" (more recently, “anti-terrorism”) as a national religion and control mechanism.
Herman adds some flesh to the bones:
“The crucial structural factors derive from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people (or other companies); they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media are also dependent on government and major business firms as information sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and frequently overlapping interests, cause a certain degree of solidarity to prevail among the government, major media, and other corporate businesses.
“Government and large non-media business firms are also best positioned (and sufficiently wealthy) to be able to pressure the media with threats of withdrawal of advertising or TV licenses, libel suits, and other direct and indirect modes of attack. The media are also constrained by the dominant ideology, which heavily featured anticommunism before and during the Cold War era, and was mobilized often to prevent the media from criticizing attacks on small states labelled communist.
“These factors are linked together, reflecting the multi-levelled capability of powerful business and government entities and collectives (e.g., the Business Roundtable; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; industry lobbies and front groups) to exert power over the flow of information.” (Herman, Monthly Review, op.cit.)
Notice that the propaganda model is not a conspiracy theory. Herman and Chomsky write:
“We do not use any kind of ‘conspiracy’ hypothesis to explain mass media performance. Our treatment is much closer to a ‘free market’ analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces.” (Herman and Chomsky, op. cit., p.xii)