A Study of Media, Propaganda and Democracy, Noam Chomsky

“Discuss how Noam Chomsky’s filters explain how the media helps to manufacture our consent in contemporary Western democracies. You should use contemporary examples to support your discussion.”

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist and philosopher who is known for his influences on linguistics, his theory of innate grammar, and his political activism. Chomsky is famous for his illustration of “The Propaganda Model.”

In 1988, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky co-wrote “Manufacturing Consent”, in which they denied the idea that mainstream media’s purpose is to inform and serve the public. It was said that democracy is staged through our media, which works as a ‘propaganda machine’ and that propaganda is not just present in the Eastern, authoritarian countries with which we associate it. They blasted the idea that the media doesn’t engage in politics and instead concluded that the media actually informs us of what people in power need us to hear, ensuring that we fall in line with those above us.

Chomsky’s Propaganda Model illustrates how five filters are used in the media and exposes how it is heavily influenced, and essentially controlled, by corporations and the government. The example I will be using in this essay is that of Donald Trump and his rise to presidency.

The first filter is Ownership.

The mass media is mainly owned by corporations and the government. Their main goal and orientation is profit. Due to this, actual critical journalism is forced to take a back seat as the company’s push for a guaranteed profit, as opposed to relevant and necessary news stories being the priority. With regards to Trump, Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of TV stations in the USA (193 stations) forces its stations to show Donald Trump in a supportive and positive light in “news” segments.(Graves, 2017) They control companies such as CBS, NBC and FOX and have shows in almost every state of America. 

The owners of Sinclair Broadcasting are Republican and are avid fans of Trump. They hire former employees of his, forging a close connection to the President, and have been seen attending dinner with the President in Washington DC. During the election, they didn’t do any interviews with Hillary Clinton, but instead had fifteen ‘exclusive’ interviews with Donald Trump, all of which were positive. 

Due to the close connections with Trump, it is believed that the company has been allowed to skirt market regulations. It is also due to expand soon. If their $3.9 billion purchase of 42 new channels is approved, Sinclair Broadcasting will reach the homes of 75% of the homes in America with their ‘Pro Trump “News”’.  Most people in America are already unknowingly watching Sinclair Broadcasting ‘news’ as they are unaware of the fact that most channels fall under the Sinclair umbrella.

Sinclair is known as “The most dangerous US Company you have ever heard of” and “Trump TV”  thanks to the former FCC chairman, Michael Copps. However, they may soon face trouble as people are starting to question the company’s size, right-wing politics and the connections to the White House.

The second filter is Advertising. 

The mainstream media costs too much money for citizens to pay for it, so people turn to advertising. The advertising companies are paying the Media for their audience. This means that, as well as the media seling us a product,  we are being sold as a product to the advertising companies who are investing(Collective Evolution, 2017).

Chomsky himself gave an excellent example of this filter in use in ‘Manufacturing Consent’:

“CBS proudly tells its shareholders that while it “continuously seeks to maximize audience delivery,” it has developed a new “sales tool” with which it approaches advertisers: “Client Audience Profile, or CAP, will help advertisers optimize the effectiveness of their network television schedules by evaluating audience segments in proportion to usage levels of advertisers’ products and services.” In short, the mass media are interested in attracting audiences with buying power, not audiences per se.”

It is argued that this filter shows the news as ‘filler’ for the clientele, and that they are really just watching the advertisements in order to try and encourage them to spend more money. Advertisements also affect the stories shown. If a story is more likely to decrease the audiences urge to spend their money on the advertised, then the story is booted and space is made for a story which would help aid their desire to make a purchase.

The third filter is The Media Elite.

Viewers need to be able to trust and believe what they are seeing in the media without having to think about it. Most of the news and media narrative is heavily influenced by the Government and corporations, who can feed articles they want us to see and make themselves crucial to the media machine by using interviews, ‘scoops’, accounts and quotes from the ‘experts’. The system in place in our media means that complicity is encouraged, companies follow and broadcast whatever the power system of corporations want them to post, leading to the two having an uncomfortably close relationship. If you challenge the power then you will be pushed to the side, if you don’t comply then you’re out. The Media needs to keep their investors happy and therefore the stories are approved by their partners.

A way Trump uses the Elite would also be Sinclair Broadcasting. He has the largest broadcaster of TV stations in the USA on his side, all broadcasting pro-Trump propaganda to almost 75% of Americans.

Trump himself also owns a media company, Trump Productions. Many large shows such as ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Pageant Place’ are broadcast from his company, however many people don’t realise that it is his. He therefore has the capacity to use this company to his advantage if needs be.

The fourth filter is Flak.

As the Media encourages complicity and compliance in such a heavy way, straying away from the consensus or the norm, and writing a story which can be an inconvenience for those in power, means that the journalist will be ‘trashed’. Corporations have large scale organisations, which were created purely to create flak and trash and discredit any article or journalist that has strayed out of line. In turn, as well as tainting and discrediting the name of the journalist, they also divert the conversation in a different direction, distracting people from whatever was challenging them and their image in the piece of journalism in question.

It is no secret that Donald Trump loves calling out people in the media that he doesn’t agree with on Twitter. He constantly criticizes and verbally abuses news pieces he does not agree with, calling them “FAKE NEWS” or throwing in another ‘news story’ to change the subject. This was especially used in his campaign to become president, usually to discredit pieces on Hillary Clinton and her successes in her campaign. Any piece published or broadcasted that doesn’t shine a favourable light onto Trump is referred to on his Twitter, which reaches over 44 million people worldwide, and pushed straight back away from the public eye, with a different piece of ‘news’ trying to distract us from what we have seen.

The fifth and final filter is The Common Enemy.

The common enemy is created by the Media in order to create fear throughout the public. This will corral public opinion and bond them. It also creates a fear that can double as a comfort. It allows people to think that everything at home is a lesser evil, compared to something worse happening elsewhere. The Media brands anything that leans too far to the left as ‘communist’, fake terrorists, ‘radical’ countries, and false enemies can all be created in order to scare people into thinking in the same way as the Media powerhouse. It was known in Manufacturing Consent as “Anti-Communism” as at the time of the book originally being published, Communism was the primary threat or Common Enemy(TrueBluePolitics, 2017). As time progresses, the Common Enemy changes to things such as the religion of Islam or “The War on Terror.”

For Trump, he threatens the loss of people’s freedom, or the loss of The American Dream to create this fear. He blames refugees for the ‘downfall’ of the US, has promised to build a wall to keep Mexican people ‘out’ of the country and has demonised Muslim people due to the behaviour of terrorist organizations. He even uses this to stop discussions on gun control, focusing on the race of the shooter, or the mental history. After the attack in London in June, Donald Trump tweeted “Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used guns and a truck!” He creates fear through the Media, allowing people to fear People of Colour, or refugees as it allows them to put trust in him. If people are scared of them, then he has the opportunity to win these people over and put himself into a good light and narrative.

From researching this topic, it is even more clear to me how present propaganda is in our daily lives. Due to the Internet, it can be a little harder for it to get to us due to the sheer amount of different pieces available to us online. It would be a lot easier to find an Anti-Trump article now than it would have been in the past. This is due to the fact that the internet simply cannot be controlled quite as easily as print or visual media. The internet allows every citizen to become a journalist and reporter, meaning we are less affected by the Media Machine. They are struggling to feed us as much edited information as they would have in the past.

When people hear the word ‘Propaganda,’ our minds seem to spring immediately to countries such as North Korea or Hitler Germany. We so rarely think that democratic, modern day, developed countries such as America would still make use of the media to try and teach its citizens to comply with how the Powers of the country want them to. It can mainly be traced back to one reason; greed. In the forms of money and power.

If the Media shows us what the Powers want us to see, then money from the advertisers will continue to be pumped into the machine. At the end of it all, all they want from us is profit, that is their main objective. They don’t want to provide actual news stories, or truthful news stories if that means they will lose their money, or in Trumps case, if it could affect their position of power on the citizens of a country. 

The only way to stop this form of propaganda from affecting you is to make sure you educate yourself. You can use Chomsky’s model to assess the Media you are exposed to, and what way that media may lean or try to influence you. If you try to look at the news stories and media around you with an open mind and a neutral opinion and allow yourself to form your own opinion on each piece then this propaganda will be less effective.

People are slowly realising the amount of power and sway the Government and Corporations have over the media and, with the internet and the usage of Chomsky’s filters, this propaganda is starting to have less of an impact on people today.

Bibliography.

 

  • Graves, L. (2017). ‘The most dangerous US company you have never heard of”: Sinclair, a rightwing media giant. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/aug/17/sinclair-news-media-fox-trump-white-house-circa-breitbart-news [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].
  • El Jareeza (2017). Noam Chomsky – The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine.

    Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34LGPIXvU5M [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

     

  • Investopedia. (2017). The Companies Donald Trump Owns. [online] Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/updates/donald-trump-companies/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].
  • Collective Evolution. (2017). Noam Chomsky’s 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine Summarized In An Incredible Animation. [online] Available at: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2017/05/21/noam-chomskys-5-filters-of-the-mass-media-machine-summarized-in-an-incredible-animation/ [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].
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