Avram Noam Chomsky

Avram Noam Chomsky

Avram Noam Chomsky

Chomsky was born 7th December 1928, and he is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and political activist. He is well known for his theory on Generative Grammar, a theory he started to work on in the 1950s, and he is one of the fathers of modern linguistics. His work is praised by scholars and according to the Chicago Tribune he is the most cited living author, ranking close up to Plato and Freud (Discover the networks 2010).

Chomsky has been engaged in political activism all his adult life and has published many books and articles expressing his true opinions. He has stated that his "personal visions are fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in The Enlightenment and classical liberalism" and he has praised libertarian socialism. According to Chomsky his views are of the sort who the powerful people do not want to hear, and so he is considered an American political dissident (Wikipedia 2010). He is well known for his extreme views on politics, and especially on the US foreign policy and mass media in society. Chomsky is a very influential leftist in today’s society.

Alongside with Edward S. Herman, Chomsky wrote the book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988). The book is a critical analysis of the American mass media and it also describes the propaganda model theory in which mass media is examined through. The book represents an approach in critical thinking in relation to the political economy and media ownership. As Herman and Chomsky states; the ruling elite are able to ‘manufacture consent’ (Errington & Miragliotta 2008, p.49) Further on Chomsky is very clear on the issues concerning mass media in the United States: The mass media serve as a propaganda arm and ‘bought priesthood’ for the US Government and US corporations’ (Wikipedia 2010).

In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky discusses how the propaganda model has been adapted to liberal democratic systems in which private and formal censorship is absent and "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." This relatively recent phenomenon of oligarchic media control, he explains, is made possible by a rigorous process of filtration conducted by mass-media industries . In essence, this process of systemic self-censorship has served to "filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their message across to the public". He explains the successive stages of content filtration using the following terms:

1. Size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms

The profit orientation of mass-media is fused to the market system, so much so that the former is heavily inclined to accept its legitimacy. Indeed, to question profit-orientation as a corporate creed would be to critique the very structure of the mass-media. The ‘industrialisation of the press’, Chomsky argues, has shaped the structure of the media since the formation of the radical press in Britain in the 19th Century, "based on technological improvements along with the owners’ increased stress on reaching large audience”. Replicating existing societal power structures, media industries have long been tiered, hierarchical and highly concentrated instruments of the corporate elites who, “along with the government and wire services, defines the news agenda and supplies much of the national and international news to the lower tiers of the media, and thus for the general public.”
The concentration of media ownership has greatly intensified in recent years. Conglomerates have increasingly sought media holdings, and thus there has been an even greater emphasis on ratings and profitability. This trend has been precipitated by an increased composition of outside directors in executive media roles—an estimated two thirds of the ‘outsider-director aggregate’ represent corporate bankers and lawyers, the majority of whom maintain formal affiliation with their prior firms. Thus, “if the managers fail to pursue actions that favour shareholders returns, institutional investors will be inclined to sell the stock (depressing its price) or to listen sympathetically to outsiders contemplating takeovers”. Similarly, media corporations proffer preferential positions to highly influential government regulators in what Chomsky terms the “revolving-door flow of personnel between regulators and the regulated firms”, a policy enabling a circumvention of regulatory schemes and the consolidation of an oligopolistic broadcast media structure when television was first introduced.

2. Advertising as the primary income source of the mass media

Chomsky argues that advertising, the second filter, was and still is used as a means of controlling dissident opinion and "as a powerful mechanism weakening the working-class press". As advertising tends to improve the overall saleability of a product, it "will tend to drive out of existence or into marginality the media companies and types that depend on revenue from sales alone". An advertising-based system, ostensibly based on free market principles of competition and notions of the 'consumer as arbiter' , instead tend to benefit the wealthy members of society and anyone else sophisticated sales tools like the "Client Audience Profile", segmenting markets in terms of their receptiveness to clients' messages. Thus advertisers, representing culturally and politically conservative interests, are encouraged to exert enormous pressure on the media, tending to avoid programs "with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the "buying mood".

3. Reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power

Source filtering arises from both a shortage of resources and the limitations of constant deadlines, or as Chomsky would have it, "a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest". As a result of these logistical constraints, the media is inclined to accept the line of bureaucracies claiming to hold the confidence of the public, supposing that the messages of institutions directly or indirectly endorsed by the populous ought to be taken at face value in the absence of a safety net of non-partisan analysis. "These bureaucracies turn out a large volume of material that meets the demands of news organizations for reliable, scheduled flows". By contrast, materials not disseminated by powerful bureaucracies will be generally viewed as dubious and likely to "elicit criticism and threats, requiring careful checking and costly research". Furthermore, when messages transmitted by official government agencies do not align with corporate interests, the latter has a considerable advantage in dealing with the perceived threats. This has been the case with the Obama Administration's recent attempts to enact legislation which would require special interest groups to disclose funding of anti-incumbent political advertisements. Moreover, powerful social and political elites are able to control the flow of media directly by inundating it with material "which serve sometimes to foist a particular line and frame on the media, and at other times to help chase unwanted stories off the front page or out of the media altogether".

4. "Flak" as a means of disciplining the media

Elites, through the mobilisation of their resources, are capable of generating 'flak', negative responses to a media statement or program. An anonymous, frequently utilised method of producing 'flak' is when the powerful "complain to their own constituencies (stockholders, employees) about the media, by generating institutional advertising that does the same, and by funding right-wing monitoring or think-tank operations designed to attack the media." Chomsky cites the chicanery of Accuracy in Media (AIM) during the 1970s and 1980s, a conservative institution charged with neutralising the mass-media in its criticisms of American foreign policy exploits. "The work is a travesty of scholarship, but more interesting is its premise: that the mass media not only should support any national venture abroad, but should do so with enthusiasm, such enterprises being by definition noble".

5. "Anti-Communism as a national religion and control mechanism

In Chomeskyan theory, the anathematic radical left-wing, threatening "the very root of...class position and superior status", is used to mobilize the populace against a common enemy and ensure hegemonic political views. However, in recent times this baton has undoubtedly been passed on to the now infamous Jihaadist.