The propaganda model is a conceptual model in political economy advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky to explain how propaganda and systemic biases function in corporate mass media. The model seeks to explain how populations are manipulated and how consent for economic, social, and political policies is “manufactured” in the public mind due to this propaganda. The theory posits that the way in which corporate media is structured (e.g. through advertising, concentration of media ownership, government sourcing) creates an inherent conflict of interest that acts as propaganda for undemocratic forces.
The book begins with the following quotation by John Milton:
They who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness.
~ John Milton
First presented in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model views private media as businesses interested in the sale of a product—readers and audiences—to other businesses (advertisers) rather than that of quality news to the public. Describing the media’s “societal purpose”, Chomsky writes, “… the study of institutions and how they function must be scrupulously ignored, apart from fringe elements or a relatively obscure scholarly literature”. The theory postulates five general classes of “filters” that determine the type of news that is presented in news media. These five classes are: Ownership of the medium, Medium’s funding sources, Sourcing, Flak, and Anti-communism or “fear ideology”.
The first three are generally regarded by the authors as being the most important. In versions published after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Chomsky and Herman updated the fifth prong to instead refer to the “War on Terror” and “counter-terrorism”, although they state that it operates in much the same manner.
Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles that the model postulates as the cause of media biases.