Manufacturing Consent

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky. This book outlines what the pair describe as ‘a propaganda model’ to understand the workings of the news media in particular.

Manufacturing Consent uses both linguistic and institutional analysis to understand the media.

In a totalitarian state people do not have their own opinions heard. In a democracy the belief is that we can express our opinions however when democracies are capitalistic they have wide inequalities and concentrated wealth. In a society like that it becomes important to control what people think in order to support consensus opinions and major financial and political forces.

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian neo-Marxist and was the first to use the term hegemony in relation to the control of ideas in society. Dominant ideas are not simply enforced, they maintain dominance through consent. Consent is therefore developed through education, culture and the media. Hegemony is something that always has to be reasserted in order for it to be maintained.

‘the manufacture of consent’ – Gramsci

The mass media has been a key mechanism in the manufacture of consent to maintain established hegemonies.

It serves as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace.

‘It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society… In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda’ – Manufacturing Consent 1988

Does the media constitute a public sphere?

Herman and Chomsky believe that the media played a clear societal function in not enabling the public to assert meaningful control over the political process. Media is not used to empower ordinary people but rather to give an illusion that they are involved, and to defend economic, social and political agendas of the few privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state.

‘In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control over the media, often supplemented by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent.’ – Manufacturing Consent 1988

In Pakistan, prior to 1990, there were only two TV channels: PTV1 and PTV2. These channels were of the state and were likely to only represent the interests of the state. In the US, historically private companies own or influence TV production. Companies and not the state. Who’s agenda are they (CNN, NBC) representing?

The manufacture of consent: ‘is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident is the limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality in command of resources, and its effect both on access to a private media system and on its behaviour and performance.’

Economics and Austerity – In The News


The media creates illusions and this is accepted by many academics. However, academics disagree over the role that it plays. For liberal thinkers, the bias in the media was a ‘necessary illusion’ that the state had to create in order to protect the status quo. Others see it as duping the public and a challenge to a true democratic society.




First Filter: Size, Ownership and Profit Orientation of the Mass Media

  • 1988 – 23 corporations own over 50% of the businesses.
  • 2015 – 6 conglomerates own 90% of media in America.

Second Filter: The Advertising License to do Business

  • An advertising-based system will tend to drive out of existence the media companies and types that depend on revenue from sales alone.
  • Papers are organised around the business interests of advertisers both in direct market but also the wider interests of owners of wealth and status.
  • Elite papers print news and ideas to sell to privileged audiences. They control the information presented; they decide which topics will be shown, how they frame and discuss issues, how they filter information and what they emphasise.
  • Infotainment is the logical development of this process. News of celebrities, who are themselves brands often dominate the news.
  • Herman and Chomsky believe there is little news in mass media, with much emphasise on human interest stories. This seems to get people ‘away from the things that matter’.

Third Filter: Sourcing Mass Media News

  • There is a reliance that the media has on information provided by government, business and experts funded and approved by primary sources and agents of power:
  • In the neo-liberal era, the information that comes from government, the police and public relations organisations gets filtered through news agencies.
  • News workers predisposed to treat bureaucratic accounts as factual because news personnel participate in upholding a normative order of authorised ‘knowers’ in the society.
  • A news worker will recognise an official’s claim to knowledge not merely as a claim, but as a credible, competent piece of knowledge.
  • This amounts to a moral division of labour: officials have and give the facts; reporters merely get them.

Fourth Filter: Flak

  • This refers to negative responses to a media statement or program.
  • Letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches, bills before congress, complaints, threat and punitive action are all seen under this.
  • Flak is related to power. It can be direct or indirect.
  • Serious flak has increased in close parallel with business’s growing resentment of media criticism and the corporate offensive of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The Leveson Enquiry is an example of flak.

Fifth Filter: Anti-Communism

  • regarded as a national, religion and control mechanism.
  • This largely declined after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 however, it can be seen with attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.
  • The new filter could be ‘war or terror’.


The five filters interact and reinforce each other. They fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amount to propaganda campaigns.

These notes are from my Year 2 Semester 1 lectures and seminars.
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