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Review Of Herman And Chomsky Essay

The ‘Manufacturing Consent’ of media operations written and applied by Edward Herman and  Noam Chomsky say  that elite mass media are united and interlocked with other institutional sectors in ownership, management and social circles. In democratic societies mass media plays an important role. They respond to public concerns and create awareness to the state policies important events and view points.

The fundamental principles of democracy depend upon the notion of a reasonably informed electorate  that reflects  public opinion and respond to public concerns Media is an integral part of the society, media need not be controlled or set to a pattern they work united with other sectors.(European Journal of Communication; 2002, pg.147).

Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model has been named as ‘conspiracy theory’ because of its determined view of media behavior, according to them mass media are instruments of power that mobilize support for special interests that dominate the state and private activity and mass media acts in unison with other sectors, i.e. the academy, to establish, enforce, reinforce and police corporate hegemony. (European Journal of Communication 2002, pg148) .  Herman and Chomsky reject the ‘conspiracy label’ however ‘the Manufacturing Consent’s emphasis is on motives of media behavior, in relation to institutional controls.(Herman and Chomsky ;1988,pg 1-35).

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The model assumes that media designs should be explained in structural terms. According to Herman and Chomsky there are five major ‘filtering’ mechanisms which structure the news content. The authors admit that propaganda model cannot give every detail of such a complex matter as the working of the national mass media, the model does not assume that news reporters, editors and other workers are instructed or typically compelled to omit some voices and emphasize others, the model outlines circumstances under which media will be comparatively ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

As micro-analysis is not the task of the Propaganda Model, it only provides an overview of the system at work, making sense out of a confusing picture by removing the main principles of the system, the basic argument in this context  is that meanings are easily ‘filtered’ by restrictions that are made in the system. The authors argue that meanings are formed at odd levels, as the decisions are understood to be natural and sensible, however the authors do not imply that newsroom workers always make decisions to align themselves with the interests of the dominant elites.(Rai,1995:pg46)

Herman and Chomsky write that all news material goes through five inter related filter restrictions. Leaving only cleansed residue fit to be printed.(Herman and Chomsky;1988:pg 3-14). The five filter elements are: (1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner’s wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media; (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 the primary sources and agents of power. (Martin and Knight 1997,pg 253-254). (4) Opposition as means of disciplining the media; (5) anti-communism as a national religion and control mechanism.(Herman ,cited in Wintonick and Achbar,1994:pg108).

The first filter restriction emphasizes that media are closely interlinked and share common interests with other dominant sectors as corporations, the state, and banks. The dominant media sectors are large firms with large businesses; they are controlled by very wealthy people or by their managers who are subject to sharp restrictions by the owners. The second filter emphasizes that the news production process is highly influenced by advertising values ,most media must sell markets(readers) to buyers(advertisers).This dependency can directly influence media  performance, Chomsky  remarks  that media content reflects the interests of the sellers, the buyers, and the product .

Herman contends that the application of the first and second filters of the  propaganda model has greatly influenced the economy the communications industries, and politics went through dramatic changes the two filters ,ownership and advertising have become even more important. The third filter is the news gathering process, the dominant elite provide press releases, copies of speeches, periodicals, photos, and thus government and corporate sources are attractive to media only for economic reasons. The third filter stresses that the opinions by corporate and state sources are adapted to class interest and market force.

Herman and Chomsky stress that the nature of the mutual relationship between media and sources directly affect the media performance. The powerful can use personal relationships, threats, rewards, to influence media. The media under obligations may carry untrue stories in order not to offend their close relationship with the sources. The fourth filter, flak, means the state the dominant social institution which has power and resources to force the media to play a propagandistic role in society

Herman and Chomsky explain that flak refers to negative responses to media statement, it may involve individuals or independent action, and the authors contend that preferred meanings are structured by dominating official sources, in this way news may be skewed in the desired direction. The fifth filter, the anti-communism has been replaced by ‘otherness’ It’s the idea of scaring people, creating fear, hatred, and discontent aroused by social and economic conditions, to prevent them from realizing to what is really happening to them.(Chomsky 1998: pg48).The authors maintain that media shapes public opinion by controlling how ideas are presented; the five filters curb the flow of the news as it passes through its gates and can easily limit what can be big news.

Herman and Chomsky state that these five filter constraints are the essentials of propaganda model, the members of the power elite try to shape the beliefs and attitudes and opinions of the people through the media, free and open discussions are part of the process but leaders utilize deceit and violence to combat individuals and institutions as the public does not agree with the opinion of the power elite. The world politics has seen radical changes since the demise of communism in the former Soviet Union as mentioned in the Manufacturing Consent.

The fifth filter is termed ‘the dominant ideology ’through out this book, however,  anti –communism  has been emphasized as the ideological elements that are most important in terms of discipline and control mechanisms. The Manufacturing Consent, gives a vague description of the fifth filter its ideology helps to mobilize people against an enemy it can be used against any policies that threaten property interests or support the communist states and radicalism, the model presumes that media performance is understood as the outcome of market forces, the dominant media are deeply and firmly imbedded in the market system, the main information sources ,the media depends on  are the government and major business firms.

Herman and Chomsky view media as dominant ideological apparatus same  as mentioned in the thesis by William Domhoff in his book ,The Powers That Be: Processes of Ruling Class Domination in America. (Domhoff 1979,pg 169). Domhoff contends that the  four basic processes through which the ruling class ‘rules’ are (1)the special interest process;(2)policy formation process;(3)candidate selection; and(4)the ideological process, the Herman and Chomsky’s theory is the mirror of Domhoff’s theory of ideological apparatus for dominant elites.(Domhoff;1979,179-183).

The Canadian sociologist Wallace Clement writes about the ruling class of Canada, he states through observation that the ruling elite have remained consistent over the past century. The institutional links within Canada are at elite level, ownership of capital is highly concentrated.(Canadian Corporate Elite;1975). Another Canadian sociologist Patricia Marchak (1988;pg122),stresses that the main question is under what conditions the state would be obliged to act only with reference to the interests of the capital. When such conditions are obtained universally, and when they do, the validity of Propaganda Model is likely to increase.(Patricia Marchak;1988,pg34).

Herman and Chomsky do not claim that media acts only to circulate propaganda. The Propaganda Model   describes ‘the forces that cause the mass media to play a propaganda role’ they also argue that media not only serve the political and economic interests of dominant elite but also of the state. The authors admit that the propaganda model does not explain everything in every context it deals with the patterns of media behavior and performance. The elite media decides what topics, issues, and events that are to be considered ‘news worthy’ by the lower-tier media and establish the general discourse, they determine, they select,  they shape,  they control, they restrict in order  to serve the dominant elite groups in the society.

This system is at odds with reality as the powerful are able to decide what the general public is allowed to see, hear, think and create public opinion by regular control. Individual powerlessness grows in the face of globalizing market; support organizations as the labor unions are weakened .In the final pages of Manufacturing Consent Herman and Chomsky acknowledge that the system is not all powerful, the domination of media by government and the elite have not overcome Vietnam syndrome and public hostility to direct US involvement in destabilization and over throw of foreign governments.  Herman and Chomsky took the phrase ‘manufacturing consent’ from the influential American journalist Walter Lippman who advocated consent engineering.

He said common good should be managed by small specialized class. The creation of consent is not a new art, it was supposed to have died out with the birth of democracy but it is very much alive, it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. The engineering of consent is the essence of democratic process, (Bernays; 1947, cited in Wintonick and Achbar, 1994; pg41). the freedom of speech, press, petition, and assembly; the freedoms to make the engineering of consent possible are the most cherished guarantees of the Constitution of the United States.(Lippman, cited inRai,1995;pg23).  John Jay was the first chief justice of the Supreme Court he said ‘those who own the country ought to govern it’ in other words it is necessary to ensure that those who own the country are happy or else all will suffer, for they control investment and determine what is produced and distributed and what benefits will trickle down to those who rent themselves to the owners when they can.

The propaganda model contends that media content is organized to manufacture consent and to prevent opposition media content serves political ends the media makes choices that establish and define ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ causes. The news coverage devoted to government(state)policy in general(foreign and domestic) by the elite to generate audience interest and sympathy in some stories while directing attention away from other stories Media take close interest in the Third World and their interconnections with the  government.(Herman and Chomsky,1988;pg13-14).

The authors write that media treats victims of oppression and state terrorism differently, depending on the perpetrators. The ‘unworthy victims’ (victims of oppression and /or state terrorism perpetrated by us (Canada, the US and the other capitalist democracies), and ‘worthy victims’ (victims of oppression and/or state terrorism perpetrated by official enemy states).Different treatment is observed in sourcing and evaluating stories, full swing investigation in search of villain and of high officials, to humane treatment more prominent coverage.

In case of ‘unworthy victims’ of enemy crimes, allegations are simply invented they have to rely on official US. sources unless they prove it wrong in which case they are avoided(Cambodia under Pol Pot is a case in point).It predicts that the victims of state terrorism/violence that is perpetuated by the democracies or client states will be given treatment that can be seen to serve political ends (Chomsky, 1988; pg34). The writers as moral agents are trying to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them.

My personal view is that citizens of democratic societies should take a definite course of self- defense to protect their rights with the help of radio and television, advertising and public relations to safe guard their rights from being manipulated. The Independent mind must be allowed to develop and grow in a free society it is a difficult task as in today’s free society, consent is manipulation of public opinion. I do agree with the writers, in my view the young minds should separate themselves from the official manipulative system. Thus the writers are invested with a moral responsibility to tell the truth, it is a very difficult task to perform today even in our free society.

Works Cited

Clement, W. (1975) Canadian Corporate Elite: Analysis of Economic Power. Toronto:

McClelland and Stewart.

Domhoff, William G. (1979) The Powers That Be: Processes of Ruling Class

Domination in America. New York: Vintage Books.

European Journal of Communication (2002) SAGE Publications

(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), Vol 17(2): 147–182.

[0267–3231(200206)17:2; 147–182; 023691]

Martin, Michele with Graham Knight (1997) Communication and Mass Media:

Culture, Domination and Opposition. Toronto: Prentice-Hall.

Wintonick, Peter and Mark Achbar (1994) Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky

and the Media. Montreal: Black Rose.

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