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What The Media Reports As ‘News’ May Be Influenced By Propaganda: Here’s How

By Sandeep Rawat:

With the advent of digital revolution and satellite television reaching every nook and corner of the country, we are now bombarded with hundreds of channels offering a variety of content. One of the biggest chunks of those channels consists of news channel. These are at the regional, local, national and international level in terms of their reach and penetration. Hence the rational decisions that we as an audience do in our mind is based upon how the information is being portrayed in front of us. The reference points based on the exposure to a message hence shapes and impacts our ideology and attitude towards a social context. Taking the above argument as an advent point, it is very important for us as an audience to understand the process of how we get this information via mainstream news channels.

The answer lies in the time tested model called the Propaganda model. It was coined by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy Of The Mass Media, in 1988. The framework is used to understand and analyse the functioning of mainstream media. The main argument of the Propaganda Model is that information that flows in the media is affected by various factors like size and media ownership, advertisers influence over media houses, sources of information for media houses, flaks and anti terrorism ideology which dominate. The news we get as a viewer or a listener may differ from what it actually may be. There are various factors and pressure that the main stream media has to go through before broadcasting any news so as to maintain a status quo among the various stakeholders, like government, civil society members, business houses, audiences and society to maintain the maximum acceptance. The main point here is that the media does not work in the isolation. The functioning is affected by various forces since media has to rely on other institutions for its existence.

Image source: Jon S/Flickr
Image source: Jon S/Flickr

The major reason why various stakeholders and powerful institutions influence media before delivering its end product i.e. news, is the fact that the product of the media holds the after-effects in terms of shaping the ideas and thoughts of the masses. Right-wing critics may say that our audience is not the ‘Couch Potato’. They have the power to critically analyse the news while consuming it. But the way news is represented by the media and its influence on the audience cannot be undermined. This is the reason why various stakeholders use their power in order to control media according to their flexibility.

Broadly there are 5 key filters that news go through before it is finally broadcast to us. These filters are the factors and the institutions which influence the media institution to modulate the information according to their needs and requirements. Hence the media institution may show some news intentionally and may not show some other news intentionally. So the importance of why we don’t say what we don’t say is equally important as why we say what we say in context of news that we get through various sources.

Five Filters

Every information/news goes through a refining process containing five filters before reaching to ultimate audience. The five filters can be categorized as:

1. Size and media ownership
Large business houses, corporate, media houses owned by the wealthy segment of the society whose main aim is profit seeking and they do not want the dissemination of information that is not in their own interest.

2. Advertisers
They are the main source of income for the mainstream media houses. Since the business model of private media houses runs on the reliability of advertiser’s money, they also influence the content and news of the media channels according to their own requirements since advertisers are also the profit seeking identities.

3. Sources of information
Media houses have limited reach and resources in terms of sourcing of information. Hence it has to rely on various other sources like government agencies, public relation firms who may or may not provide the authentic information.

4. Flaks
The negative responses that a media gets from the various sources that put the pressure by various methods like law suits, complaints and petitions against the media because of any information that may not fit their ideology.

5. Anti-communism/Anti terrorism
The fifth filter is the anti-communist approach. This is specific to the context of U.S context where because of the capitalist approach; communism is outlashed.Hence the media also restricts itself due to the dominant ideology of the nation.

Hence the information needs to flow through these filters before it could reach to the probable viewer or listener which may affect the quality and reliability of the information that is presented by the media.

The Indian Context

The television was introduced in the year 1959 in India. This gave the rise to the country’s starting point towards the exposure of video broadcasting, which was more or less in the hand of the state. The Indian media sphere is evolving very rapidly since the time FDI was introduced in the media and entertainment sector by the government. The public broadcaster here i.e. DD National, unlike its many European counterparts is not shy to take the advertisements from the private investors and commercial houses. Although the public broadcaster has lost the charm and the reliability due to its bureaucratic approach and hence is very much considered as the mouth piece of the government rather than an autonomous body functioning on its own. After 1990’s, the private ownership started expanding in the media sphere and since then the industry is growing exponentially year after year till now. Talking about the contemporary situation, the dynamics of media is changing and the power structure can be seen shifting from the individuals to the hands of the giant corporate houses. The news in Al Jazeera on 12th June 2014 reports with the fear of India’s media takeover by corporate giant Reliance Industries which takes over Network 18 Media and Investments, a media house that owns and runs television channels including CNBC TV18,CNN-IBN and CNBC Awaaz as well as online news website.

But with the rise on the questions of media reliability and authenticity, it seems to have made a new wing of opportunity and scope for investigative journalism that positions itself as the true and reliable source of information without compromising on the quality. Online digital news initiatives like, cobra post, etc., are the examples of the baby steps towards the betterment of news authenticity.

Although India accounts for the second largest user base of internet users just after China, the internet penetration in our country is still among the lowest even when we compare it to Asian counterparts. But the digital media and social networking websites have played an important role in the authentication of the news. The news is now counter checked by the audience from these open sources for validity and reliability. Since these online news portals and magazines are less vulnerable to the media, so they are considered as more reliable.

The last filter in the current scenario can be understood by the fact that media runs behind the dominant ideology of the state. News on prime minister many a time outnumbers the issues faced by a billion and more population. Paid news and political interferences are corroding the reputation of media authenticity. Although any sort of publicity before the elections were strictly condemned by the election commission under the moral code of conduct before and after the elections, but the incidents like the resignation of India TV’s station’s director of news just on the day of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate’s interview telecast on the same channel and the incident of OPEN magazine sacking the editor just after a news story critiquing on the Prime Ministerial candidates of the two major political parties questions the hidden dark spot in the functioning of media.

Although the governance issue of media has been mostly left on them in the form of self-governance, it certainly seems that an autonomous body is required with representations from both civil society as well as the industry and other reputed institutions in order to make sure the integrity of media which is very much considered as our fourth pillar of democracy maintains its purity and legitimacy in the eyes of common man.

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  1. Priyank

    Very well written article, sir! Bringing the true nature of corporate media to the fore among the Indian audience is a very important and ignored issue. Thank you for this post.

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