Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2014 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
One of the functions of media is to inculcate individuals with values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society (Herman & Chomsky, 2002:62). However, this rhetoric can only be fulfilled with systemic propaganda, thus, the authors proposed the ‘Propaganda Model’ to better understand the political economy of the mass media.
Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outlined five (5) filters in the ‘propaganda model’ of inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass media interests and choices. These are: (1) size, ownership and profit orientation; (2) the advertising license to do business; (3) sourcing mass media news; (4) flak and enforces; and (5) anti-communism. Hence, the issues raised arise on its application to the Philippines.
By and large, I agree with the arguments on the propaganda model propounded by the authors which can be seen as realities in both the American and Philippine mass media. Imperative examples to compare the US and PH media industry are largely the same because the Philippines is certainly influenced by the Americans, being a colony of the US in the past. Nevertheless, the elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents, apparently are dominating the choices and interpretations of “objective” news and formation of professional news values, circulating in the air waves and the community of manufacturers of information.
The first filter talks about the size, ownership, and profit orientation of the mass media. They deem that family ownership becomes diffused among larger number of heirs and the market opportunities for selling media properties. With this the persistence of family control is evident, with enormous wealth possessed by the controlling families on top of the media firms (Ibid: 68).
They presented essential evidence in US mass media when the author argued that about twenty-four companies are large, profit-seeking corporations, owned and controlled by quite wealthy people. In the Philippines, despite the smallness of its media industry in terms of the number of competitors compared to the giant and global market of the United States; the same patterns on family ownership is apparent in two of the largest TV networks (ABS-CBN and GMA), and an emerging TV network (TV5) is controlled by a maverick business visionary who also owns the largest telecommunications (Smart) in the Philippines.
The authors also mentioned about the diversification and geographic spread of the great media companies. This phenomenon is also happening in the Philippines through the regional networks of major TV networks. These radio-TV networks also partner with major daily newspapers; and connect with major telecommunications to spread and disseminate the information that instant – now using ‘quadmedia’ – print, radio, television, and the internet.
The same dilemma goes with the US and PH mass media as it besets the issue of government licensing; a requirement in acquiring licenses and franchises that could potentially subject them to government control and harassment. This major threat in the mass media can lead to legal dependency to discipline the media. An issue arising in the Philippines pertains to professionalizing “media practitioners” by requiring them to take the licensure exam administered by the government. It becomes a dilemma since the government is vested with its own interest contrary to what is expressly stipulated in the Constitution on the freedom of expression and right to communication.
The second filter discusses the advertising license to do business. A conduit to successful mass media is the increasing presence of advertisers that become a ‘de facto’ licensing authority. In it, the authors believe that, “the power of advertisers over television programming stems from the simple fact that they buy and pay for the programs” (Ibid:76). Advertisers are anointed as ‘patrons’ who provide the media subsidy and their choices definitely affect the welfare of the mass media; thus, advertisers powerfully form the “normative reference organizations." Apparently, in the Philippines this is prominently seen as the ‘ratings race’ which may dictate the survival of substantive shows that may suffer from the political discrimination of advertisers.
The third filter dissects the sourcing mass media news which often happens to subsidize the mass media and gain special access to reduce media’s cost. The reason behind, there is a need for economic necessity and reciprocity of interest, where important rumors and leaks abound; the same way bureaucratic affinity are elicited. In here, the authors views that, “routine news sources have privilege access, whereas, non-routine sources must struggle for access and may be ignored by the gatekeepers” (Ibid:82).
One interesting arguments posed by the authors is how to deal with in shaping the supply of ‘experts’. The relation of power and sourcing extends to this issue, which may sound debatable as to the qualifications of the ‘expert’s expertise’? Are they founded based from their academic credentials, authority, knowledge, or experience? This becomes interesting especially when one is elevated as an expert by the mass media.
Flak and the enforcers becomes the fourth filter. Obviously, advertisers who are movers and shapers in manufacturing consent through the power of mass media do not want to get negative responses on the programs they are sponsoring that would jeopardize their profits. Profits are substantial in this kind of business.
So, the authors are adamant in saying that, “advertisers are still concerned to avoid offending constituencies that might produce flak, and their demand for suitable programming is a continuing feature of the media environment” (Ibid:86).
This phenomenon also happens in the Philippines, especially now that the mass media has become participative. The attention given to various flaks are concerns that the Philippine mass media has to take into consideration. Although, the flak machines steadily attacks the mass media, still the media treats them well because they balance the reality. Same as the case in America and the Philippines, the government plays a major role as a producer of flak in their aim to assail, threaten, and correct the media on the information and content they produce.
The last filter according to the authors is anticommunism as a control mechanism. I don’t seem to agree much with this proposition particularly in Philippine setting even if the Left (communists) is marginally present in our society. In the United States, this is an ideological battle that they need to stand and survive as a beacon of democracy. Ideological difference with communism is apparently understood since democracy is the beliefs that the US is trying to propagate. Their messianic mission to spread that democracy is good and communism is bad is a sharp divide in the international political arena. We must understand where the US is coming from. The press freedom, freedom of speech, right to communication, and others are values in which they want in ingrain to most nations in the world.
To conclude, I subscribe to the ideas of Herman and Chomsky on their arguments on the ‘Propaganda Model’. It sets the basic yet sophisticated tone on how the political economy of the mass media works in the United States, which is also happening in the Philippines. These are realities that must not be taken for granted; hence, it must be understood to know how the mass media operates in our society together with other powerful actors or players that are strategically tapped by the authors.