‘Smooth operator’: The propaganda model and moments of crisis - Des Freedman

An article by Des Freedman on Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model for the mass media and moments of crisis (disagreements within the ruling class), focusing particularly on the Daily Mirror and its anti-war coverage in the build up to the Iraq war.

Submitted by wojtek on March 26, 2012



11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on October 1, 2012

I think this is a key point:

Flat Earth News invites us to focus on staffing levels, on a lack of journalistic time and resources. It invites us to tinker at the edges of a system which in fact is rotten to the core. Or rather it invites ‘insiders’ to address these issues. But authentic reform of hierarchical, exploitative social systems – of which the corporate mass media is a classic example – has only ever been achieved by democratic pressure from outside. (Media Lens 2008)

The problem here is two-fold: first, there is little mention anywhere on the Media Lens website as to the kind of ‘democratic pressure’ that is required and, instead, a consistent emphasis on writing to individual journalists and editors as the most immediate (and effective?) response to the mystifications of mainstream media coverage. There is scarcely a mention of the possibility of collective action or the role of, for example, the National Union of Journalists, which has mobilized its members not simply on ‘bread and butter’ issues but also around threats to journalistic independence and opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second issue is that the world is seen in this analysis as composed of a struggle between ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’, without an understanding of how ‘insiders’ are affected by the world ‘outside’. Do we not want ‘insiders’, many of them ordinary journalists and media workers (as opposed to editors and proprietors), to push for change at those times when they – and their readers and viewers – start to question‘normal’ assumptions (about the efficiency of the market, the legitimacy of corporate bonuses or the humanitarian nature of foreign policy)? Do we want to reject those who support ‘tinkering’ in favour of a principled commitment to all-out change?

This creates an unnecessary polarization between ‘radical’ and more cautious approaches to change and raises the danger of an abstract approach to politics.Proponents of radical transformation would be well advised to join forces with those who may initially only want to ‘tinker’ and then to argue with them that‘tinkering’ is not likely to be enough to secure the sort of change they both would like to see: a more equitable financial system, a foreign policy that is not based on imperialist interests, or a truly democratic and inclusive media system. Colin Sparks, for example, argues that journalistic resistance is rarely ‘articulated in terms of class struggle’ and more usually expressed in terms of ‘professional standards and autonomy’ (2007, 80). Journalists and media workers have shown, however,that they are willing, superficially on the basis of upholding professional values, to take more drastic forms of action. This has involved journalists walking out on strike in August 1985 against the censorship of a Real Lives documentary on Northern Ireland, printers at the Sun who refused to publish a front page during the 1984/5 miners’ strike featuring a photograph of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill that made him look as if he was giving a Nazi salute, and newsroom staff at the Daily Star who, in 2006, forced the paper to drop plans for a spoof Daily Fatwa on the basis that it was offensive to Muslims. At moments where elite disagreements connect with mass mobilizations – most obviously during the Vietnam War (analysed by Hallin, 1986) or the Iraq War (discussed in Crouch 2004) – these tensions are particularly likely to result in opportunities for more fundamental and strategic questions to be debated and publicized.