Sunday, February 10, 2013

A propaganda model by Chomsky and Herman

From all the readings we did for this week I saw that most of them are centered on the concept of democracy, public opinion and participation. In some cases, like in the Reading #18 we read that the author, in this case, editors of the Public Opinion Quarterly, consider that “mass opinion is the final determinant of political, and economic, action”, implying that masses and people determine the decisions of actions in politics and economy. The same authors of this reading saw the press as the “Fourth Estate”. These views of the press as the “fourth estate” imply, according to Mullen and Klaehn, that media acts as guardians or protectors of the public interests and as “watchdogs” regarding the exercise of power. Thus, the media serves as a “system of checks and balances that comprise the modern democratic system” (Mullen & Klaehn 2010).

Later in other readings we see how important is to measure the public opinion because as the authors describe it, it is a very powerful party and according to this in a democratic society the ideas of the majority acts as judges of social and political issues (Peters & Simonson 2004). However, I was disagreeing with some of this authors that, according to my interpretation, give so much power to the mass and the audiences and claimed the audience has most of the power to influence economy and politics.

I found another perspective that was developed by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky named the “Propaganda Model”. This model was studied by Mullen and Klaehn in a paper. The aim of the propaganda model was to explain the state of the mass media in the U.S and the role of media in society. Contrary, as the audience holding the power or the media defending or guarding the public interests and opinions, Herman and Chomsky proposed that media performance is heavily influenced by political, structural and economic elements.  As Mullen and Klaehn propose, this Propaganda Model challenges or contradicts the assumption that media are liberal and devoted to the interest of the public. In fact, in their study they discuss the contrast between a "liberal-pluralist view" and a more "critical-Marxist view", reflected in the propaganda model. In some of our readings we have seen that authors discuss how polls can reflect the public opinion of the majority and how those are presented as the predominant point of view of a vast amount of people. But the question here is does these results or ideas are really representative? Can they reflect the vision of the majority or they are merely an imposition of the media associated with political, economic or market forces?

The Propaganda Model (PM) proposed by Herman and Chomsky describes the existence of five filters that intervene in the process of news production. Those five filters are:
“1) the ownership, size and profit orientation of mainstream media;
2) advertising as the principle source of revenue for mainstream media and the corresponding influence of advertising values on news production processes;
3)  mainstream media’s routine reliance on agents of power as the primary definers of social reality;
4) organized flak that represents a mechanism of social control;
5) various ideological forces, which may be deployed and adapted to correspond to elite interests when required" (Mullen & Klaehn 2010)

This model had received many critics and in fact the authors predicted that the mainstream media would ignore it. The model was proposed in 1988 and the authors of it think that this model it is getting stronger rather than diminished. Just to mention one example that focus in one of the filters, which is sourcing, they mention how news today, according to an study, are merely the result of public relation releases and how journalists became merely processors of unchecked-facts rather than active seekers of news. They became “churnalists” instead of “journalists” according to Herman and Chomsky.

I consider the ideas of this model are interesting. I wanted to expand on this model a little bit more but I don’t want to make this post too long. For that reason, I attach the article  in case you want to take a look. The purpose of this post was to present another theory that opposes to some of the ideas presented in the readings of this week.  

Mullen, A., & Klaehn, J. (2010). The Herman-Chomsky Propaganda Model: A Critical Approach to Analysing Mass Media Behaviour. Sociology Compass 4/4, 215-229.
Peters, J. D., & Simonson, P. (2004). Mass Communication and American Social Thought. Key Texts:1919-1968. Maryland, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.


  1. I agree that the mainstream media relies on "agents of power" when they report stories. And certainly, owners and advertising have an impact. That's why I think it's so important that people get their news from a variety of sources. I also believe people need to constantly check to see who funds the blog or "news" outlet.

  2. Thanks for your comments Mary. When I read this model it just reminded me of the situation of media in my country, which only has a population of 6 million. There are 4 newspapers and the owners of the 2 main ones are shareholders of supermarkets, mobile companies and more and you see how partial they are when presenting some news that touch their interests. Also, as Chomsky's named them, I think there are many "churnalists" around there and this is easy to see when you read the sunday edition of the newspapers where most of the time, news are just a reflection of PR releases and there is not that much substance in the content of the articles.