Media control seemed to be to the exclusive possession of totalitarian states. However, Chomsky and Herman have illustrated how the torchlight of the free world, the United States, manipulates public thought through control of media. Through comprehensive surveys of media coverage on a number of issues, from foreign elections to Indo-china wars, the authors argued that the media deviates from the usual image of a cantankerous, obstinate and ubiquitous watchdog of authority. Rather the media serves a “societal purpose”—to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state.
Controlling the media is a formidable task, especially in a market economy where ownership is dispersed and censorship is not in fashion. But at the end of the day, money and power managed to accomplish this mission by filtering out news “fit” to print. Firstly, the dominant media firms nowadays in the US are huge corporations in the hands of the wealthy, whose interests are interlocked with other major corporations and government, and the result is sacrifice of independence in choice of news. The second filter is advertising. In the symbiotic relationship between the media and advertiser, the latter acquires a de facto licensing authority and the mass media courts audiences with buying power. Working-class and radical media are marginalized because they are perceived as ideological enemies and as damaging interests of the advertisers. Further, the media cannot be unbiased since they often rely on official sources of information from the government. Fourthly, the media adheres to the orthodox line to avoid “flaks”—negative responses to a media statement or program produced by audiences, corporation and government. Finally, anticommunism acts as a control mechanism. News that can be used against the communist devil is more likely to go through the filter: demand for hard evidence is suspended and charlatans thrive as information sources.
Of course, the propaganda model in the US is not to be equated with that in a totalitarian state. The media encourages spirited debate and dissent. But such dissent will hit the submerged rock once it goes beyond the system of principles that constitute an elite consensus. In other words, freedom of press exists, but only for those who have internalized required values and perspectives.
The argument of the authors is well supported, despite the necessary selectivity of evidence in a study of this nature. But the book poses a problem without any prospect of solution. One of the few plausible alternatives to corporation controlled media would be public funded ones, not the best candidate to uphold media independence for obvious reasons. The concluding remarks of the book point to self-education of the community as a step for meaningful social change. Yet such remarks are more aspirational than practical....Continua