“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”Voltaire
Initial exposure to a theory like the propaganda model can be frightening.
You may recognise truth in it but be alarmed by the implications: that certain things you were told all your life (“we have a free and independent press!”) are simply not true.
It takes some adjustment and many (valid) questions to fully come to grips with the theory.
If you have any questions that aren’t addressed below drop us an e-mail!
I am struggling to understand how the propaganda model can work in practice. Surely many journalists have integrity and would not be willing to sell out their own values to promote those of the paper’s owners or advertisers?
Journalists are just as likely to have integrity as workers in any field. However, does this mean that the institutions they work for have no influence on their output?
Consider your own experience working in a large organisation. Firstly, in order to get the job you would have attended an interview to demonstrate that you were a “suitable candidate”. You would then likely have been appointed on a trial basis and made permanent or promoted if you demonstrated that you could “add value” to the organisation.
What are the implications of this? That all of us, to obtain and hold down a job, must show a willingness to adapt ourselves to the organisations we work for.
Journalists, like us, will not consistently ignore managers and directives from above (if they do they will be dysfunctional and removed from the organisation). Significantly, most of the time they will not have to be told how to conduct themselves. Those working in large organisations simply come to understand what is expected of them – they internalise the company’s values and act in accordance with them, usually without thinking about any constraints this puts on what they do or what they say.
Roles at renowned media outlets are greatly coveted; it is an attractive proposition to see your name on a by-line of The Times or the Guardian. Ambitious journalists therefore have every incentive to internalise the values of these organisations and to learn what narratives to pursue and which to ignore or downplay, what can be said and what can’t be said.
No one can say a journalist lacks integrity if they believe what they’re saying!
If the media are so compliant and in the pockets of the powerful then how come I see politicians and business figures being criticised every day?
This is a valid question.
One reason there is continual dissent and argument in the media is that the powerful do not agree on every issue. For example, classically there are “liberals” who believe in personal freedom, progressive views, etc and “conservatives” who believe in personal responsibility and hold to more traditional values.
The disagreements between these camps can be fierce but it doesn’t mean that a full and meaningful debate is taking place.
Politics provides a nice metaphor here.
The House of Commons pits the Conservatives against the Liberals and Labour. The arguments are so fierce the Commons is often described as a “bear pit.” Nonetheless, all three parties believe that nuclear weapons should be renewed, that the “solution” to terrorism is to bomb more countries in the Middle East and that continued economic growth is more of a priority than tackling climate change.
The media offer a similarly limited debate, with shared assumptions hidden beneath a veneer of confrontation and recrimination. Shared assumptions which are, we might add, deadly…
Do you think it is realistic for The Free Press to be printed and delivered by volunteers?
It is highly ambitious but not unprecedented.
The origins of modern democracy can be linked to the development of the printing press, which allowed “radical” views to be widely disseminated and class consciousness to develop.
The liberalising movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like worker’s rights, women’s rights and the civil rights movement, were closely linked to grassroots activism, leafleting and worker newspapers that have all but disappeared as market forces have overcome them.
The Internet also has liberalising potential but generates filter bubbles which surround people with views that reinforce existing beliefs – not to mention the larger filter bubble of e-commerce, big tech and advertising which direct users towards consumerist experiences.
A back to the future approach could be the way forward. Modern technology can disconnect us and keep us in our homes. Dropping The Free Press through letterboxes takes us out into the community and opens dialogue.
People who would never stumble across the propaganda model on the internet will have the chance to read about it on their doorsteps. Activists will have the opportunity to get creative – why not add a page relevant to what’s going on in your local community or highlighting distorted coverage of local issues? – and potentially develop a cooperative media platform.
Imagine a truly democratic media – created by members of the community, printed by members of the community and delivered by members of the community. That would be a free press.
What about the environmental impact of printing The Free Press?
The journal has been designed for double-sided printing so that only one sheet of A4 is used per edition. We would encourage the use of recyclable printer paper and manually refilled printer cartridges wherever possible.
Just as environmental campaigners often have to use fossil fuel transport or print materials to bring their message to an audience, distribution of The Free Press would generate a footprint – but this must be viewed in context.
All of us receive, courtesy of the privatized Royal Mail, dozens of glossy pages of corporate propaganda each week. A single A4 sheet of The Free Press, delivered once a month, has a negligible impact in comparison and could help create the consciousness to vastly reduce the astonishing waste of resources in advertising and other business fields.