Thursday, 22 March 2007

“Manufacturing Consent” The Power of the Mass Media to propagate propaganda

Dear Friends,

This article is about the power of the Mass Media to propagate propaganda. The phrase “Manufacturing Consent” (as opposed to the phrase “Manufacture of Consent” by Walter Lippman writing in the early 1920’s) was first coined by Professor’s Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman from their book titled “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” published by Vintage 1994, Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd LONDON SW1V 2SA.

It is well worth reading, in the preface they state,

“In this book, we sketch out a “Propaganda Model” and apply it to the performance of the mass media of the United States. This effort reflects our belief, based on many years of study of the workings of the media, that they serve to mobilize [sic] support for special interests that dominate the state and private activity, and that their choices, emphases, and omissions can often be understood best, and sometimes with striking clarity and insight, by analyzing [sic] them in such terms. Perhaps this is an obvious point, but the democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria, and they have support for this contention in the intellectual community. If however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and to “manage” public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality.”

On the back cover of the book a quote from the publishers states,

“What emerges from this groundbreaking work is an account of just how propagandistic our mass media are, and how we can learn to read them and see their function in a radically new way.”

Now this book is quite some years old and in effect as the authors elude to they state the obvious. However, the interesting thing is their case studies backing up their arguments. The problem I see is that once this point has been identified and the issues examined what then do we as the wider community do to keep the Mass Media honest?

Clearly, and without doubt freedom of speech is a fundamental tenet of any liberal democracy, so how do we curb such deviant acts by the media without curbing the freedom of speech?

Now many people (especially from the media) will voice that there are many regulatory schemes in place to protect the community from the power of the mass media. Has anybody actually studied those schemes and how effective they are? For example, journalists study the laws of defamation during their formal courses; they know how to negate them. When a target of their venom passes away, it is a free for all in the media because they know “dead men can’t sue”.

There are certain statutes (in Australia for example the Trade Practices Act (Cth) ) which prohibits corporations from engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct. However, the regime in Australia is such that you need to establish individual damage, in other words if the media single out a certain section of the community and continually denigrate them individual members of that community can not utilise those sections of the Trade Practices Act because they have not been able to establish damage. What’s more interesting is that certain sections allow the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission to act on behalf of individuals and seek that the Court fines a corporation for any breach of the Trade Practices Act, but the ACCC can pick and choose at random.

So in effect, you have a position that if a section of the community is aggrieved by constant propaganda by the Mass Media and the ACCC does not wish to act because they state it is not in the public interest, then that section of the community is effectively without legal recourse to a remedy.

The laws around the world need to be necessarily changed in order to (as the catch phrase of the Australian Democrats once was) “Keep the Bastards Honest.” The vast majority of the people around the world treasure freedom of speech, it is not about curbing freedom of speech but placing checks and balances on the mighty power of the mass media to “manufacture consent”. There should be provisions that force the mass media to undertake due diligence inquiries before reporting and publishing otherwise incorrect information which can have the effect of devastating lives, jobs and in fact the good standing of various sections of the community at large. With public power we can get the politicians to act, we need support and unity.