(Bryant Archway. 2013. Media Consolidation USA)

Media Structures and Filters

Section
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
Page
6.2

Well-known linguist and public intellectual, Naom Chomsky, has suggested that the mass media needs to be understood through its operations, or ‘filters’, of which he thinks there are five. A short video (< 5 mins) introducing the filters can be viewed here – Noam Chomsky: The five filters of the mass media (prruk.org) .

(Public Reading Rooms/Aljazeera. Naom Chomsky – The 5 Filters of Mass Media)

 

He describes each filter as follows1:

  1. Ownership
    The first has to do with ownership. Mass media firms are big corporations. Often, they are part of even bigger conglomerates. Their end game? Profit. And so it’s in their interests to push for whatever guarantees that profit. Naturally, critical journalism must take second place to the needs and interests of the corporation.
  2. Advertising
    The second filter exposes the real role of advertising. Media costs a lot more than consumers will ever pay. So who fills the gap? Advertisers. And what are the advertisers paying for? Audiences. And so it isn’t so much that the media are selling you a product — their output. They are also selling advertisers a product — YOU.”
  3. The media elite
    The establishment manages the media through the third filter. Journalism cannot be a check on power because the very system encourages complicity. Governments, corporations, big institutions know how to play the media game. They know how to influence the news narrative. They feed media scoops, official accounts, interviews with the ‘experts’. They make themselves crucial to the process of journalism. So, those in power and those who report on them are in bed with each other.
  4. Flak
    If you want to challenge power, you’ll be pushed to the margins. When the media – journalists, whistleblowers, sources – stray away from the consensus, they get ‘flak’. This is the fourth filter. When the story is inconvenient for the powers that be, you’ll see the flak machine in action discrediting sources, trashing stories and diverting the conversation.
  5. The common enemy
    To manufacture consent, you need an enemy — a target. That common enemy is the fifth filter. Communism. Terrorists. Immigrants. A common enemy, a bogeyman to fear, helps corral public opinion.”

I don’t think there’s a lot of surprise here, especially as regards the corporate media, whose interests have been shaping the world through these mechanisms for many years. The size and reach of these entities is, though, perhaps surprising, even to the initiated. A graphic of American media ownership drives the point home:

(Bryant Archway. 2013. Media Consolidation USA)

 

The situation in my country is perhaps even worse than this, and I know this sort of concentration of ownership and interests is becoming increasingly common worldwide.

If, as Chomsky suggests, the goal of the mass media is to ‘manufacture consent’, then the 90% or more of outlets in America and Australia and similar that are owned by huge corporations will be manufacturing consent around the global, corporate belief system and religion: The Growth God and the religion of capitalism (see Section 3). Growth, expansion, consumption, wealth, profit and individualism will all be extolled either directly through articles and programs, or indirectly, via advertising. Anyone, or anything, that is seen to stand in the way of this will either be excluded, or be silenced through application of ‘Filter 4 – Flak’, or ‘Filter 5 – The common enemy’ (see webpage 6.3).

Chomsky’s filter construct, though useful for understanding corporate media, is less so for ‘public’ media, not least because advertising plays no, or a limited, part, and ownership is more diffuse, usually through a mixture of ‘government’, ‘the public’, and subscribers. This said, it should not be automatically assumed that the absence or limiting of some filters means that they are not replaced by others, often making these media entities conformist in their own way. In such instances, filters such as ‘Filter 3 – The media elite’ become ever-more important, establishing a controlling culture that determines what is to be covered, and how (see Section 5.5, 5.8 and 5.9).

As global capitalism has strengthened its hold, its approach has hardened, moving many corporate media businesses further to the right. Perhaps in response, public media entities have shifted more obviously to the left, leading to a depressing game of partisan table tennis whereby each pushes back from the other and no one occupies the middle ground, or indeed, any ground other than the few narrowly defined topics of interest and combat of both camps (e.g. for the Right: money, business, sport, fear/enemies; the Left: race, gender/sexual identity and relations). Worse still, both sides are increasingly abandoning any pretence of objectivity and proudly proclaim that they are ’campaigning’ entities, as if a PR pamphlet or headline is superior to reasoned argument and in-depth analysis.

This increasingly partisan media world has been measured in various ways (the methodology needn’t bother us here) and can be displayed graphically; for instance, for the USA:

(Ad Fontes Media. 2018. Media Bias Chart, USA)

 

Of course, it is not unexpected that there is bias–there always will be–it is that it now seems to be openly embraced, to be getting stronger, and if that isn’t worrying enough, the drive to the bottom – literally on this chart – is away from the upper levels of laudable attempts to report facts and carry out complex analysis, and towards the bottom, where the approach is labelled variously on the chart as ‘selective’, ‘unfair’, ‘propaganda’, and ‘fabricated’!

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that Nature and the environment are finding it harder and harder to be considered in anything like a meaningful way in such a competitive, combative, fractured and divisive media world; more a Tower of Babel than a forum of information and ideas.

 

1 Chomsky, N., Herman, E. 1988. Manufacturing Consent. Pantheon Books, New York, USA.

Explore Other Media Environmental Context

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