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4.2: Critiques and Limitations of the Propaganda Model

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    The series of filters provided in the Propaganda Model continue the tradition of leftist critique of mass media following the likes of Adorno and Habermas, but significantly extend the form of critique by presenting concrete factors which, it is proposed, serve to structurally produce a system which is economically and ideologically bound to support positions of privileged and powerful elites within contemporary social formations. While critiques of the Propaganda Model, such as Schlesinger (1992) contend that the Propaganda Model presents an overly determinate account of media systems allied with a functionalist concept of ideology, Chomsky and Herman do not claim that the Propaganda Model captures all factors which influence mass media coverage of news stories, or that the filters preclude significant differentiations within and between media conglomerates, particularly noting that there are short periods where specific historic and/or  social circumstances open limited windows of opportunity for journalists to engage in less constrained critiques of powerful actors. As such the Propaganda Model presents media as a dynamic system dependent on a vast number of variables which constantly works to reassert hegemony, a point emphasized in Herman (1996). However, the Propaganda Model does argue that while dissent is not completely suppressed, the effect of the mass media is broadly to frame events from the perspective of powerful economic and political actors. As Klaehn (2009) contends, "the strength of the PM is the way in which it ‘highlights how ideology, communicative power and media texts link to social organization, cultural education and pervasive social, political and economic inequalities'" (p. 46)

    Unlike the approaches of the Frankfurt School and Habermas, the progenitors of the Propaganda Model do not contend that the consequences of mediated communication are inherently antidemocratic or anti-enlightenment, merely that the  currently existing mass media are predicated on infrastructure which tends to produce systematic bias in favor of powerful political and economic actors. Chomsky and Herman consequently argue, both in Manufacturing Consent and elsewhere (e.g/, Chomsky 1989, 1997) that alternative modes of media provide the potential for enhancing social awareness and social justice, albeit alongside the caveat that "Although the new technologies have great potential for democratic communication, there is little reason to expect the Internet to serve democratic ends if it is left to the market" (Herman, 2000).

    Where the Propaganda Model, and indeed political economy centered approaches in general are more broadly criticized, is that their structural approaches to the ways in which mass media is produced, or by which dominant discourses are encoded into these texts, the focus on production tends to obscure the diverse range of responses to these texts, the way that audiences decode the information. Alternative approaches, which concentrate on the processes by which audiences create meaning from media texts can be found in reception studies, audience studies and strands of cultural studies. It should, however, be noted that rather than being portrayed as oppositional approaches which take a mutually exclusive top down/bottom up or production/consumption centric ways of exploring media, political economy and audience research can more productively be understood as complimentary modes of exploring media systems, which provide different modes of insight which are best understood alongside rather than in competition with one another.


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

    4.2: Critiques and Limitations of 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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