The Propaganda Model of the Media

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Emmanuel Sokias
Evaluate the usefulness of either the ‘propaganda model’ or the ‘political economy model’ for the study of media power.

The Chomsky-Herman propaganda model, at its core, asserts that “elite media determine what topics, issues and events are to be considered ‘newsworthy’ by lower-tier media… in order to serve the interests of dominant, elite groups [in society]” (Klaehn 2005, p. 2). Most assertions of this theory are relevant for today’s mediascape, though by and large the propaganda model holds a prejudiced view of media ownership and conglomerates at the helm of power. The media industry is undergoing vast changes, with its reach and influence prominent on levels never before seen. Due to the fluidity of the media industry, academics and media theorists face the challenge of theorising a medium that will always be subject to change, and so, as media theorist Dwayne Winseck (2011, p.13) states, “we must be open to theoretical revision more than ever”. In particular, the propaganda model’s filters of ownership of medium, sourcing and flak will be discussed.

It is evident that there has been little diversification of media in past decades, with an antithesis occurring: “family owned media businesses [have] morphed into huge media conglomerates, with some taking advantage of globalization to expand abroad and diversify” (Winseck 2011, p.15). This cycle occurs within the borders of the western world, which in turn gives people of those societies an introverted view of the world around them. Chomsky and Herman (in Klaehn 2005, p. 4) state, “the dominant media firms are quite large businesses; they are controlled by very wealthy people or by managers who are subject to sharp constraints by owners and other market-profit-oriented forces.” Advertising and profit gains have become the lifeblood of the media, placing a demand on increased sales and circulation of media. Sensationalist and celebrity news gains higher revenue than that of political dilemmas and questioning governance, this results in media elite catering for a society that has grown to expect and demand such content, so that conglomerates may please their respective business owners. “Interaction between the media and the individual is ‘complex’ but not without effect” (Errington and Miragliotta, 2007 p.44), society mediates what is broadcasted to them, by showing the media what they respond well to, and in turn the media delivers.

On July 31st 2012, BBC News online headlined: “Hundreds of millions without power in India”. The story reported: a large power-grid failure had left two thirds of India’s population without electricity for days. The story ran in few online platforms, including Reuters, Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, though in Australia there was no mention in any of the nation’s daily-circulated papers. Albeit being in the Asia-Pacific region, the events of the Indian electrical blackout went largely unnoticed, overshadowed by other news stories deemed more newsworthy by media elite. Various headlines included: “Magnussen rebounds from ‘worst day of his life’” (The Daily Telegraph 2012, p.1), and “Consumers hit with needless energy costs” (The Sydney Morning Herald 2012, p.1). Dominant media publications choose to publicise what they feel will resonate more with the Australian public, and ultimately sell more papers, or create greater traffic to their online news websites. This thus ascertains the propaganda model’s sourcing filter, which states “the mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest” (Chomsky and Herman 1988, p. 14).

However, there do still exist establishments that question and report on global matters that aren’t steeped in sensationalist content. The advent of the Internet has allowed for a myriad of online news agencies to report on local and world events without bias. The downfall of these online...
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