the manufacture of consent

Don’t Sell Your Consent

The day Thee Faction reconvened to sort through the tapes for ‘At Ebbw Vale’ was a hot July day, notable for the death of Raoul Moat, a “gunman” who shot three people.

Moat had been pursued by the Police in the small northern English hamlet of Rothbury for the best part of a week, AND, of course had also been pursued by rolling news media. We watched for days, knowing we were a long way from the story, sympathising with the local folks yet grateful it did not concern us, happy to see news services were ‘keeping us informed’ but most of all, looking forward to Mr Moat carrying out his threat of blowing his head off, live on TV.

One of the songs involved in the At Ebbw Vale sessions deals with exactly this salacious desire to have the bourgeois idea of ‘importance’ bought to us, we feel we are being looked after at the same time as feeling nervous that at any point we could be attacked: it is this dichotomy which keeps us quiet and oppressed.

This “propaganda model” as an alternative to the conception of the media as “adversarial,” the one to which journalists, jurists, and communication scholars typically subscribe, is beautifully outlined by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media [Pantheon, 1988/2002].

The propaganda model as outlined herein depicts the media system as having a series of five successive filters through which the “raw material of news” must pass, leaving a “cleansed residue” of what “news is fit to print, marginalizing dissent, and allowing the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public”:
(1) a focus on profitability by and the increasingly concentrated
industry that has close ties to the government and is in a position by sheer volume to overwhelm dissenting media voices;
(2) the dependence of these media organizations on funding through advertising, leading them to head towards content likely to appeal to the
(3) the dependence of journalists who work for the media on information from sources that constitute, collectively, a powerful/prestigious establishment;
(4) commercial interests that make the media vulnerable to “flak” and criticism from groups and institutions with the power to generate criticism and protest to which they respond with caution; and, finally,
(5) anti-socialism – one standard to those on “our” side and a quite different one to “enemies.” (e.g “the war against terror”).

Chomsky contends that media providers “narrow the range of news that passes through the gates and even more sharply limit what can become ‘big news’ subject to sustained news campaigns.” Far from being autonomous creations, media systems reflect, the distribution of economic, political, and symbolic power in society. Those at the top, and especially the government with its huge public relations apparatus, hold a strategic advantage. The result is the “manufacture of consent” for government policies and the capitalist average which advances the goals of corporations and preserve the system.

“Facts” become simply a consideration of the relation between the “evidence available”. Credibility of sources and their accounts varies, and “slow” the flow of news. Most “stories” survive only as long as they appear timely and until displaced by other more interesting or important happenings. Those which turn out to have a longer life are sustained by the chain of responses generated by an initial report.

TV News, hampered by the need for pictures is literally, produced. The need for a moving image to illustrate dominates TV news’s agenda, thus turning it into a simple television programme, with conflict, a narrative: almost as a sport.

The practice of appealing to the public on all sorts of intricate matters means almost always a desire to escape criticism from those who know by enlisting a large majority which has had no chance to know. The verdict is made to depend on who has the loudest or the most entrancing voice, the most skillful or the most brazen PR “guru” the best access to the most space in the newspapers. For even when the editor is scrupulously fair to “the other side,” fairness is not enough. There may be other sides, unmentioned by any of the organized, financed and active partisans.

The advocate of popular government has also to come to terms with the fact that on political questions there is rarely a single version of the truth. The relevance and significance of the “facts” is often disputed while typical citizens, in view of the many competing demands of family and job, not to speak of an inherent right to pursue their own “happiness,” have little time and limited inclination to educate themselves on the many, often complicated issues that regularly command the attention of public bodies. As Rousseau recognized long ago, the “people” refers in the last analysis to an existing majority.

There is no rule for resolving disputes democratically other than to grant the majority authority over the rest. Implementation of its decisions requires additional rules formulated so as to protect the fundamental rights of everyone.

There is of course in the UK the BBC and the allegedly “liberal” media – but these are in constant danger from political conservatives who, by controlling the terms of the debate, have succeeded in moving the political “centre” several steps to the right. These attacks, more than anything else, have moved some who would protect press freedom to defend some media practices behind the rampart of apolitical “objectivity.”

Critics of current policies have become more circumspect as administration supporters package patently conservative comment into the news, which gives government a freer hand.

Thee Faction believe that commercial news providers yield a propaganda result that a totalitarian state would be hard put to surpass. (Whilst appreciating that this very treatise is our propaganda!)

Thee Faction urge you to question the news media you are being fed, especially from TV. Beware of “experts” and “statistics”. The bourgeoisie manufacture your consent by making decisions for you, in the same way religion, school or parents do when you are a child. Question everything, read and discuss. Grow up.

Don’t sell your consent, it’s very valuable.