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4: The Propaganda Model

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    Following Smythe’s exposition of the audience and Jurgen Habermas’s (1991) elucidation of mass media as providing an apparatus whereby elite sectors of society can transform the democratizing potential of the public sphere, a series of leftist academic media scholars have attempted to delineate the precise methods by which the mass media operates as a distorting lens which represents the vested interests of economic elites.

    Most prominent within this PE-centred approach has been the "propaganda model" (PM) of mass media presented by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media (1988). Herman and Chomsky begin by proclaiming that

    The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols 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 structurews of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systemic propaganda. (p. 1)

    As such, Herman and Chomsky operate within the tradition of Marxist critique of mass media as ideological propaganda whose purpose is not to inform rational critical societal debate, but to naturalize the ideology of the ruling classes. Herman and Chomsky go beyond Habermas, Adorno and Horkheimer, however, in delineating what they see as a series of structural filters through which "the powerful are able to fix the premise of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see hear and think about" (p. 1). The propaganda model proposed by Herman and Chomsky thus "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 to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public” (p. 2).


    Adapted text from Media Studies 101, used under a CC BY 4.0 International license


    4: The Propaganda Model is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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