Propaganda Model

Hi Everyone,

As a way to bridge your book’s discussion of media and meaning-making with your lecture on media industries, I want to introduce you to a model for analyzing news media that I have found quite helpful: the propaganda model.


Core Concepts/Key Questions for Media Literacy

Key Words Core Concepts Key Questions
1 Authorship Media/popular culture messages or texts are constructed. Who created this message?
2 Format The form or format of media/popular culture messages/texts is cultural. What cultural messages are conveyed by the media/popular culture format?
3 Audience People read the same media/popular culture text differently. What is a dominant, negotiated, and oppositional reading of this text?
4 Content Media/popular culture are embedded with values, points of view, and ideologies. What values, points of view, and beliefs are represented or omitted from this text?
5 Function/Purpose Media/popular culture messages are created for profit and establish social norms, constitute identities, and create shared meanings and sites of innovation. What purpose does the media/popular culture text serve?

Your book offers this chart of core concepts and key questions for media literacy. It is asking you to think through various components of media production such as who created the message, who the message is created for, and what the purpose of it is.

Notice that last concept about function and purpose, and how media messgaes are created for profit. In doing so, these media messgaes establish social norms, constitute identities, and create shared meanings. As such, it’s important to understand how, exactly, that media is produced. This is something I would like to explore further with the propaganda model.


Propaganda Model

Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (1986)

Through news media, capitalist interests can “manufacture consent” for policies and war.

The corporatization of media has made it an effective site to manufacture consent.

Propaganda Model:

Information passes through five filters before it is presented to the public as news.

Five Filters:

Concentrated ownership and Profit Orientation

Advertising-based Media System

Sourcing Mass Media News

Flak and the Enforcers

Anticommunism/Antiterrorism as a Control Mechanism

This model was developed by Edward T. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1986 book Manufacturing Consent.

The basic premise was that through news media, capitalist interests have been able to “manufacture consent” for policies and wars that would be profitable.

The corporatization of media, then, has made it an effective site to manufacture consent.

Through this analysis, Herman and Chomsky developed the propaganda model.

They argue that information passes through five filters before it is presented to the public s news.

Those five filters are:

[Click and read each bullet point]

I will go through each of these one by one


Filter 1: Concentration of Ownership

Media Conglomerate Brands Has Stake In
Walt Disney Co. Market Cap: $165 billion 21st Century Fox (pending), ABC News, ESPN, Disney Channel, Freeform, Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Marvel, Touchstone Pictures, LucasFilm Hulu, Vice Media, A&E, History Channel, Lifetime
21st Century Fox Market Cap: $65 billion FOX, National Geographic, FX, Twentieth Century Fox Films, Hulu, Vice Media, ROKU
Time Warner Market Cap: $72 billion CNN, HBO, Warner Bros., Cinemax, TBS, TNT,,, Adult Swim,, Cartoon Network, DC Comics Hulu, The CW, Fandango
Comcast/NBC Universal Xfinity, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, USA Network, Syfy, Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation Hulu, Buzzfeed, Fandango

The first filter is concentration of media ownership. You might remember this slide from the last lecture. Media ownership has become increasingly concentrated, which means that it is in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. This has meant much narrower content, with an emphasis on content that will be most profitable.

So, in other words, the diversity of perspectives we are exposed to is increasingly narrow.


Filter 2: Advertising-based Media System

Media sources rely on corporate sponsorship for revenue

Primary source of income

Sponsors can receive advertising space and can influence media content.

Content that is palatable to sponsors

Product Placement

Native advertising

The second filter is an advertising-based media system. A major source of revenue that media companies rely on is corporate sponsorship. In fact, this is many companie’s primary source of income.

Sponsors pay for advertising space. And since that advertising space is a major source of revenue, media companies will often produce content that is most palatable to their sponsors. Otherwise, the sponsor might pull their ad and then they would lose that money. This is actually a common tactic for consumers who want to push back against racist, heterosexist, or other harmful news reports. Targeting the sponsors can cause them to pull their ads, which will make the media company retract their report.

This has also meant that the lines between editorial content and advertising have become increasingly blurred, to the point that many audiences have no idea that the articles they are reading are actually advertisements.

So one form this can take is product placement. If you are watching a television show and your favorite character starts drinking a Coca-Cola, the company paid to have that happen in the hopes that you would associate a Coke with your favorite character, and then go out an buy one. This is actually a highly effective advertising strategy.

Another is what is called native advertising. Rather than placing a product on a show or having an ad prominently displayed, some media companies have allowed their sponsors to produce their own editorial content. For the right price, a company can write an article that is really just an ad for their company. So in the photo on the left, for example, is a link to a Buzzfeed quiz on color deficiencies. You may notice that the author is [Click] Samsung. This quiz is essentially an advertisement for their QLED TV.

This filter is important because it raises the question of who a media company is holding themselves accountable to: their audience or their sponsors.


Filter 3: Sourcing Mass Media News

News is concentrated in bureaucracy-heavy locations.

Information provided by officials are seen as factual.

Reliance on government, business, and “experts” funded by agents of power

Media develops personal relationships with officials, lessens accountability

The third filter is sourcing mass media news. This is the idea that media is concentrated in bureacracy-heavy locations. So, for example, if you want to report heavily on legislation and politics, you might want to be located in Washington, D.C.

What ends up happening is that these media companies start developing close relationships with officials, so information provided by those officials are automatically taken as factual. There is often very little questioning of their claims.

There is a reliance on government and business “experts” who are funded by the very people they are talking about.

And since media companies will develop personal relationships with public officials, it becomes harder to hold them accountable. So, for example, a media company might have developed a good working relationship with the president. So if the president is planning on giving a speech the next day, they might send this media company the text of the speech the night before, so they have the speech before it even happens. If a media company has a relationship like that with the president, then if the president does something wrong that needs to be addressed, that media company might be reluctant to adequately report on it because they don’t want to disrupt that relationship.

In other words, sourcing makes journalism less independent, giving the people being reported on (such as our politicians) a lot more control in how they’re reported on.


Filter 4: “Flak” to Discipline the Media

Flak = a negative response to a media statement or program

Specifically flak produced by those with the most economic, social, and political power.

Flak can be direct or indirect

Direct: Letters of phone calls from government officials, corporate sponsors to media officials.

Indirect: Complaining to their own constituencies, generating advertisements, funding organizations or think-tank operations that produce flak for them.

The fourth filter in the propaganda model is flak. Flak is basically a negative response to a media statement or program.

Specifically, it is flak produced by those with the most economic, social, and political power. So if a journalist reports on a scandal in the mayor’s office, and the mayor retaliated in some way, that would be flak.

Flak can take one of two forms: direct or indirect.

Direct flak goes directly to the source, usually the editor or owner of the media company. They might get a letter or phone call from the person being reported on, or the media company’s sponsors, asking them to retract the article.

The second form is indirect flak. In this form, you don’t go straight to the publication itself, but outside it. So the mayor might complain to his constituencies, generate advertisements, or fund organizations and think-tank operations to produce flak that will discredit that publication. A common form of indirect flak you might be familiar with is when the Trump adminsitration says “fake news.”


Filter 5: Anti-Communism/Anti-terror as Control Mechanism

Written during the Cold War and Red Scare

Fear of communism influences media messages.

Communism is to be regarded as the ultimate evil, puts those with counter narratives on the defensive.

Creates a dominant narrative that is very difficult to question without being accused of siding with the enemy.

It further narrows the content being provided, and has very harmful affects on how people are portrayed in the media.

Anti-communism/anti-terror is highly profitable

The fifth and final filter of the model is anti-communism as a control mechanism. This was the original wording in the 1986 book. However, when asked in an interview a few years ago how he might update this model, Chomsky said he would change this final filter to “anti-terror” because that is the current discourse being used in the news. But I will maintain the language of communism for this slide.

This book was written during the Cold War and the Red Scare, a time of heightened public discourse and fear mongering around the threat of communism.

A lot of media messages during this time helped to fan the flames, creating mass fear of communism and the Soviet Union.

Communism came to be regarded as the ultimate evil. The result was that if you countered this messaging, say to try to provide nuance to a complex issue, then you were seen as siding with the enemy.

This created a dominant narrative that made it difficult to ask critical questions, and made complex discussion of a complex geopolitical relationship basically impossible.

This, again, narrows the content available. This is particularly problematic with complex topics and has very harmful affects on how people are portrayed in the media. Many lives were ruined during this time; people literally lost everything under the perception that they were communist.

And again, anti-communism and anti-terror are very profitable. There is a lot of money to be made in disaster, whether you are a company that sells weapons, or a company that produces news content.


Propaganda Model

So these are the five filters in the news production process. Once content has passed through all of these, what we are left with is content that is palatable to the economic elite, but typically void of real depth, especially any depth of information that might challenge capitalist interests.

As we continue with the content this week, think about how the propaganda model might apply not just to the news, but to popular culture as well.

Thank you and, again, please let me know if you have any questions.


Ownership Concentration