Noam Chomsky is one of the most important American thinkers of our time. A professor of linguistics at MIT, he became famous for his research and views on mass media and its role in society. Today Chomsky gives lectures all over North America, and his work is required reading in many University classes.
Noam Chomsky mural in Philadelphia
Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state. - Noam Chomsky
I remember when I was first exposed to Chomsky's views, and how they opened my eyes to view media in a very different way. I never watch the news or read a newspaper without questions running through my mind, and I never receive any slant of any story without the awareness that it has been somehow filtered (whether closer to my opinion or not!.)
A main focus of Chomsky's work has been the analysis of mainstream mass media, its structures and constraints, and its perceived role in supporting big business and government interests. In their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political economy of the Mass Media, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman outline their "propaganda model" of news media, stating that more democratic societies use media propaganda as a subtle, non–violent mode of exerting control on the population. Noam Chomsky once said "Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state."
Watch this video on Chomsky and Herman's theories to clarify your understanding of the topic:
Propaganda Model of News Media
Chomsky's model attempts to explain the perceived systemic bias of the mass media. He outlines that it is the effect of structural economic causes rather than an intentional conspiracy of individuals. In other words, he isn't suggesting there is a secret room where high officials and media moguls are deciding what we should or shouldn't know, in order to further their agendas. He does, however, point out that the very fact that most main stream media is owned by major corporations makes it generally less likely that information or news that sheds unfavourable light on the interests of the corporation will get a lot of attention in the media. The model outlines five filters through which all published news must pass, which function to distort the news coverage.
A Propaganda poster from the U.S. President Emergency Management Office
Five Filters of the Propaganda Model
Documentary: Manufacturing Consent
Below is the first segment of Manufacturing Consent, thanks to YouTube! When the first segment ends, click on part two (2 of 9) and the remaining parts, until you finish the documentary. Why are you watching? Keeping the following questions in mind while you watch will help you focus your listening. Take notes, for you will be expected to hand in your answers.
What does "manufacturing consent" refer to?
Why is manufacturing consent important in a democratic society?
Whose consent is being manufactured?
What was Chomsky's methodology in studying the manufacture of consent, and what are the examples he used to explain it?
Explain the significance of the news coverage of the genocide in East Timor as opposed to that of the atrocities in Cambodia.
Why does Professor Chomsky state that the media was complicit in the East Timor atrocity? What are the implications of such complicity? What is the responsibility of the media?
What distinction does Chomsky make between "conspiracy theory" and "institutional analysis"?
In part 8 of 9, Chomsky talks about the problem with the mainstream media requiring "concision." What does he see as its effect?
DID YOU KNOW?
In his article "Corporate Hegemony – A Critical Assessment of theGlobe and Mail's News Coverage of the Near–Genocide in Occupied East Timor 1975 – 1980" in International Communication Gazzette(August 2002), Jeffery Klaehn illustrated that Canada was also heavily complicit in the East Timor atrocity as Canadians were among the largest foreign investors in Indonesia at the time. Further, though it is against UN law to sell weapons to a government that is using them for genocide or against its own people, Canada sold weapons indirectly by selling its arms quota through a third party (301 – 321).
DROPBOX: Manufacturing Consent Questions
In your best prose, write your answers to the above questions in a paper of at least two pages, double-spaced. You can include the questions in your text.
Write a reflection on Manufacturing Consent. Comment on your personal feelings after watching the documentary. Do you have any unanswered questions? How did the documentary change the way you view the news media around you?