Saturday, November 14, 2009

(TALKZIMBABWE) Media, propaganda model

Media, propaganda model
Reason Wafawarova in SYDNEY, Australia
Sat, 14 Nov 2009 14:15:00 +0000

WHEN one takes a scientific analysis of the major media the world over it is clear that at the very best there is only a slight opening for dissident or anti-establishment opinion.

In fact Western governments and other powerful interests would want to preach the glorious gospel of free press and free expression yet they themselves count a lot on the participation of the major media when it comes to framing topics and reporting issues the way they want them reported.

According to Noam Chomsky, in the book “Understanding Power” this trend started way back around 1775, during the Revolutionary War period. The leaders of that period, like Thomas Jefferson (regarded as a great libertarian), were saying that people were to be punished if they were, in Jefferson’s own words, “traitors in thought but not in deed”. This really meant that people were to be punished if they said things that were considered treacherous, or even if they thought things that were considered treacherous. This is the period when repression of dissident opinion was so vicious in the US and the rest of the Western community.

The trend perpetuates today unabated in principle and intention; only the methods changing according to the challenges of modern times. It is no longer the threat of force that ensures that the media will present things within a framework that serves the interests of the dominant institutions. The mechanisms today are much more subtle and deceptive.

There is a complex system of filters in the media and educational institutions which ends up ensuring that dissident perspectives are weeded out or marginalised in one way or the other.

This writer is no stranger to last minute cancellation of booked interviews with mainstream media in Australia and from other Western countries. The few that materialised with the likes of the BBC have been followed with wild protests from private power and politicians, as well as other auxiliary agents of the imperial system.

The reason given for the cancellations is always the accusation that this writer does not sympathise with “democratic forces” in Zimbabwe or that senior staffers at these media houses consider the views of this writer “too radical” or “too extreme”.

The end result of this trend is that we have what are called “leftist” opinions and views, as well as the “rightwing” views in the media only representing a very limited spectrum of debate. This spectrum reflects the range of needs of private power and that of the business and political elites.

There is essentially nothing beyond these “acceptable” positions. This explains why the opinions of characters like Chavez, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong, or Castro are characteristically not important to the media that continually slander these people as inhumane and monstrous.

An interview on CNN, BBC, Sky News or Fox News with any of such characters is a rare phenomenon for the sole cause of protecting the spectrum under which debate about what exactly is the matter with these people should be kept.

When such an interview does happen, as recently was the case when Christiane Amanpour of the CNN hosted President Robert Mugabe in an interview, the questioning is structured in bias towards the protection of the said spectrum. Only matters that are considered effectively harmful to the character of the interviewee are asked.

This answers why Amanpour tackled Zimbabwe’s land question without talking about the colonial legacy or the Lancaster House agreement of 1979. These issues would strengthen the position of President Mugabe so they were weeded out. Ahmadinejad of Iran can only get an interview with mainstream Western media to be grilled about alleged intentions to “wipe Israel out of the map”, and his side of the story is just ignored like that.

So what the media do, in effect, is to take the set of assumptions which express the basic ideas of the propaganda system, whether about Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, or about the human rights regime, or about global economic systems, terrorism or any other topic. Then a range of debate is presented well within that framework and the debate only enhances the strength of the assumptions, ingraining them in people’s minds as the entire possible spectrum of opinion that there is.

Last Sunday this writer was on his weekly radio programme Talking Africa Talking Straight, and there was a contributor who called in to comment on the MDC-T “disengagement” from aspects of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe.

That contributor made it clear that “we will ensure that there is an election after this withdrawal and that Mugabe is not part of that election”. To him “any sane person” knows that “Mugabe is the problem in Zimbabwe”, and he had no kind words for South Africa and SADC, whom he accused of “pampering a dictator”.

He emphatically said that Tsvangirai is right in whatever decision he may take because “most of us fallible men would have disengaged a long time ago”. To him Prime Minister Tsvangirai is right by Western law and President Mugabe is wrong by definition.

This is the spectrum any debate on Zimbabwe should be kept under when it comes to Western media. Of course that did not happen in that Sunday radio programme for the obvious reasons of who was on the other side of the line.

Apparently those who go outside the authorised spectrums are labelled proponents of Nazism and fascism, and this writer is no stranger to such malice and slander.

In the Western system of governance what is commonly called “state propaganda” is not expressed as such, as it would be in countries considered totalitarian societies. Rather it is implicit, it is presupposed and it provides the framework for debate among those who are admitted by strict screening into the mainstream discussion.

Noam Chomsky asserts in his earlier mentioned book that “Western systems of indoctrination is typically not understood by dictators, they don’t understand the utility for propaganda purposes of having ‘critical debate’ that incorporates the basic assumptions of the official doctrines, and thereby marginalises and eliminates authentic and rational critical discussion”

He asserts that under this “brainwashing under freedom” the so-called “responsible critics” or “constructive critics” do make a major contribution to the cause by dutifully bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits, and that is solely why they are tolerated, and even sometimes honoured with dubious awards.

The question by many who accuse critics like this writer of being “conspiracy theorists” is what are the “filters” that create this situation and how does it actually work that really challenging positions are weeded of the media?

Firstly there is need to classify media. There is what may be called agenda setting media houses; the BBCs and CNNs of this world. Then there are the Independents or Fingazs of this world that one picks on the streets of Harare.

The big agenda setting media often set up the basic framework that other smaller media units more or less have to adopt, or they risk being labelled Nazists or some such despicable labels.

Secondly the big agenda setting media have resources and can afford to send correspondents to cover events and scenes from across the globe and the smaller media units often have to do with trailing the findings and spectrum set by the giant media houses.

A lot of small media units in the West claim supreme authority on Zimbabwe for example, although they cannot even contemplate sending a correspondent to the country in the next twenty years, all for lack of resources. Their authority is based on a religious affiliation to the spectrum set by the mainstream media in their countries, and whatever is set within that framework becomes gospel truth.

There are always similar features that are striking when one takes a look at the larger media outlets. Firstly the agenda setting institutions are big corporations which are highly profitable – these often linked to bigger conglomerates.

The media outlets act like any other corporation. They have a product to sell and a market they want to sell it to. The product is the audience or the readership, and the market is the advertisers.

In reality the economic structure of any newspaper is that it sells readers to other businesses, and that of television network is to sell viewers to other business and so on.

The selling of newspapers is an aside and that is why some newspapers are even issued out for free.

For agenda setting media the advantage is that they are selling a privileged and elite audience to other businesses. They boast of an overwhelming membership of the “political class” and the powerful elite that makes decisions in society.

Any intelligent media or political science student looking at the system will see big corporations selling elite audiences to other businesses and will straight away determine the kind of a world picture to come out of this arrangement.

The plausible observation is that of a picture of a world that puts forward points of view and political perspectives which satisfy the needs and interests, and the perspectives of the buyers, the sellers and the market.

Clearly the needs of the readership, the listeners or the viewers are not in the picture and this is a simple observation and not a conspiracy theory.

From a classical realist perspective one expects media institutions to work within their own interests because if they did not, then they would not last long.

However the confusion that takes the said media interests so seriously as to believe that whatever the media says is the truth, is what constitutes the media deception we are talking about here.

Some of the assumptions are extremely slanderous and provocative to other communities and groups, like some assumptions being pushed forward about Islam or the “nature” of African leadership.

The media is to Western governments a propaganda model that manufactures consent required for the ratification of decisions that are largely nothing but a pack of supremacist and imperialistic ideas.

Much the same way the media is a propaganda model for some non-Western countries that feel targeted by the onslaught of Western media propaganda and have resolved to fight back.

Whichever way it is prudent for every Zimbabwean to treat the media at arm’s length and not to believe all that comes from so-called “reputable media”.

Those who say there is no free press in Zimbabwe largely refer to the lack of the spectrum that is set and controlled by the thought processes from powerful Western media outlets.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!!

* Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on or visit or visit



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