Over the past 18 months we have found that the bias in the media has become more and more pronounced. Whilst there is expected to be party political affiliations and general theoretical leanings, the media has failed to ask fundamental questions and has omitted from reporting things that it could not criticise (such as numerous marches and movements against austerity).
Russell Brand asked the question (over the Scottish referendum), “how is a democracy supposed to function, without access to accurate and unbiased information?”
The answer is, of course, that it isn’t supposed to.
“As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, the the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.”Noam Chomsky
The focus of this Real Media Series is to highlight not only the day to day litany of offences against honesty and accuracy that the mass media commit, but to reveal the fundamental systemic purpose of distraction and indoctrination that the media fulfils.
As such there is no better place to start than the Propaganda Model as put forward by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.
The model shows how the media operate on a very narrow range of topics, to give the impression of freedom of expression and public debate – whilst specific values are reinforced and other very fundamental questions are ignored.
“The Mass Media serves as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to… inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of larger society.”
Those institutional structures are ones of work for others (wage slavery), obedience to the state (patriotism), and the general maintenance of a system that keeps a particular elite in power (rich, white men largely)
“… the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly.”
CORPORATE POWER MAP
To put this more bluntly
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the (U.S.) media.”
Whilst Chomsky’s analysis is of the US media, it can be easily transferred to any media system in the Global North, especially the UK, where so much of the media is either in the hands of Rupert Murdoch, or the Government (the BBC).
“The rascal multitude are the proper targets of the mass media and a public education system geared to obedience and training in needed skills, including the skill of repeating patriotic slogans on timely occasions.”
We can see this in the case of the war on ISIS, and in the case ‘English Rights for English citizens’ narratives post Scottish independence referendum. The media repeat a story – often press released by a PR department – and have a very limited debate on it.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”
We are going to explore these false debates and the limited range of discussion over the course of this series – especially in relation to UK foreign policy, but also over the neoliberal compact (i.e. the programs austerity and the redistribution of wealth to the richest) and what that means for us.
We live in a society where division and greed are encouraged, where blame is laid at the door of the (largely) blameless poor rather than the rich, where violence is waged upon others in our name without our consent and without reason.
How is this achieved without widespread dissent?
“As long as people are marginalized and distracted [they] have no way to organize or articulate their sentiments, or even know that others have these sentiments. People assume that they are the only people with a crazy idea in their heads. They never hear it from anywhere else. Since there’s no way to get together with other people who share or reinforce that view and help you articulate it, you feel like an oddity, an oddball. So you just stay on the side and you don’t pay any attention to what’s going on. You look at something else, like the Superbowl.”
There are two important things to note, mind. One is that this doesn’t mean that situation is hopeless; there are many cracks in the system by which free thought and expression can find a voice.
“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, etc., then there’s a chance to contribute to the making of a better world. That’s your choice.”
Secondly, this system is not formed by a conspiracy. There are not men in a back room with top hats and cigars planning to keep people as subdued as possible (though I am sure that goes on somewhere as well).
This is a system that we all buy into, to whatever extent, and repeat. The theory states that there are 5 lenses that create this narrowed range of debate, and this focus on division, fear and hate.
THANKS CORPORATE NEWS
THE FIVE FILTERS
“Corporate media firms share common interests with other sectors of the economy, and therefore have a real stake in maintaining an economic and political climate that is conducive to their profitability. They are unlikely to be critical of economic or political policies that directly benefit them.”
In the case of the BBC (state owned media), they are highly unlikely to give exposure to anything that threatens the state’s existence or stability (such as serious social movements) – in this it’s interests are highly aligned with corporate media. It is unlikely to be anything more than gently critical of the ruling party, or government in general. That ruling party will staff it’s offices and control its’ funding.
To remain profitable, most media rely on advertising dollars for the bulk of their revenue. It is therefore against the interests of the news media to produce content that might antagonize advertisers.
In the case of the BBC, it’s funding is controlled by the state. If it steps out of line it’s funding is directly withdrawn (for example the BBC and it’s coverage of the invasion of Iraq cost them a share of the license fee and lost Greg Dyke – then Chairman – his job).
“Elites have the resources to routinely “facilitate” the news-gathering process by providing photo-ops, news conferences, press releases, think-tank reports and canned news pieces that take advantage of the news media’s need for continuous and cheap news content”
The PR industry used to be called the propaganda industry. It is this very industry that provides most content for news organisations.
It is seen as cheap, ready made and trusted. Information that comes from the public has to be fact checked, investigated and, often, just isn’t seen as ‘newsworthy’.
So due to the pressures of the job, time limitations, and inherent trust of a particular industry (PR) the views of the elite are predominantly represented in the news, whilst those of the people get ignored.
If the media do ever become overly critical of the establishment (the police, courts, government, corporate entities, financiers, etc), they can be disciplined by those with huge resources.
Lawsuits, changes to the law (superinjunctions), sanctions and spin doctoring are all methods by which the establishment can police the boundaries of debate.
5. EXTERNAL THREAT
When originally written, ‘Anti Communism’ was the term given to this filter, but the mobilisation of fear can be readily applied to any threat seen as existential and external to the political community of the elite.
The ‘war of (sorry ‘on’) terror’ has been a useful alternative to Communism, but anti immigration rhetoric and contagious diseases have been more prominent tools of fear mongering since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“This filter mobilizes the population against a common enemy (terrorism, energy insecurity, Iran…) while demonizing opponents of state policy as insufficiently patriotic or in league with the enemy.”
This has the double benefit of keeping the populace divided and afraid, as well as demonising proponents of unity and rationality.
As mentioned before, the institutions of the media are far too large and complex for this to be organised in one great conspiracy.
Rather there are ideas of patriotism and ‘common sense’ with which the members of the media enter the profession, performed and supported by the previous generation.
Once within the institutions they rapidly become normalised to ideas of what is and isn’t ‘news’. Rarely will they need to be disciplined to know what subjects they should and shouldn’t be covering, even if they have the freedom to choose.
Even with this entire system of distraction and division arrayed against us, polls show routinely that both the government and the media are largely out of step with public opinion.
Usually they are seen to be far to the right of public opinion, which is usually largely anti war, pro nationalisation, anti corruption, egalitarian and libertarian.
Detractors of this model often mention how it pays no heed to how much worse the media is in, say, Russia, or China.
Our job, however, in challenging the system, is to challenge the institutions of our own power, to make them accountable to the people, and servants of the people. If we as a global people bring our media under control of the people, we will be able to made decisions based on accurate information rather than the prejudice and will of an elite.
We must start with our own media to achieve that.
“I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.”