“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systemic propaganda.
In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control of the media makes it clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident is the limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality in command of resources, and its effect both on access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance.
A propaganda model focuses on this inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass-media interests and choices. It traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public. The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news “filters,” fall under the following headings:
- the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;
- advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;
- the reliance of the media on information provided by the government, business, and “experts” funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power;
- “flak” as a means of disciplining the media; and
- “anticommunism” as a national religion and control mechanism.
These elements interact with and reinforce one another, fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place. They explain the basis and operations of what amount to propaganda campaigns.
The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occur so naturally that media news people are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news “objectively” and on the basis of professional news values. The media do not stop to ponder that the government might be manipulating the news, imposing its own agenda, and deliberately divert attention from other material.”
Pp. 1-2 in Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky. 2002. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, updated ed. New York: Pantheon Books. [Pp. 1-2. From Chapter 1, “A Propaganda Model.”]