The Marginalization of Dissent and Criticism: Herman & Chomsky's Propaganda Model

By Swain, Stephen | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

The Marginalization of Dissent and Criticism: Herman & Chomsky's Propaganda Model


Swain, Stephen, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


One critique often made of the Olympic Games is how the Games have been co-opted by political groups and turned into propaganda tools for various dominant ideologies. Richard Mandell's The Nazi Olympics discusses how the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin were used by the National Socialist government to promote its ideologies. As Mandell writes, "much of the success of the 1936 Olympics was due to the pursuit by the National Socialists of supremacy in mass pageantry." (1) The 1936 Games are not the only Olympics to take advantage of the spectacular power of the Olympics to promote a particular political agenda either. In regards to the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, Alan Tomlinson writes, "the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984 can now be seen as a watershed. providing spectacular opening and closing ceremonies to assert the supremacy of the Western, capitalist, free American way over the oppressive Eastern, communist, totalitarian Soviet Way." (2) This practice has not only become standard for any Olympic Games, but the use of the Olympics in this manner seemingly continues to be improved with every successive iteration of the Games. The 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing were seen by some as an opportunity for China to make their presence felt in the global village. As Jacques deLisle writes, "the Olympics offer an opportunity to present China as a developed, prosperous and therefore powerful country." (3) These are just three examples from a wide body of literature examining how the Olympic Games have been discussed as an opportunity for propaganda.

These discussions are valuable, but can also work to hide other aspects of the relationship between the Olympics and the effects of propaganda. Rather than simply seeing the Olympics as something that can be used as a spectacular propaganda tool, it is also necessary to understand that the Olympics also rely on their own forms of propaganda. In so doing, those involved in the Olympics seek to control the message, protecting the image, and brand, of the Olympics, thereby enabling the Olympics to be a more effective spectacular tool for other ideologies.

Propaganda Model

In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outline what they refer to as "A Propaganda Model" (4) for the production of news, a set of five filters through which news stories pass before they are published. This Propaganda Model "traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public." (5) This paper examines how these five filters can be applied to the Olympics today, with a particular eye to how the various aspects of the Olympic industry, including the IOC, NOCs, the media, advertisers and governments work to filter news, marginalize dissent and seek to control the Olympic message. I believe that the Propaganda Model set out by Herman & Chomsky provides a useful tool for examining the concept of propaganda at work in the media coverage of the Olympics.

One of the most important aspects of the Propaganda Model is that the filters proposed by Herman & Chomsky can, and often do, become internalized. Rather than these filters being constantly applied by outside sources, journalists and editors often make their decisions based on their knowledge and fear of the five filters. As a result, it can become much more difficult to study these filters and their application, as those in the media censor themselves. That being said however, the Propaganda Model proposed by Herman & Chomsky is a useful tool in examining how the media, governments and Olympic groups work together to ensure that the Olympics are portrayed positively in the media, thereby working to reduce and marginalize Olympic dissent.

The First Filter: Size

The first filter of the Propaganda Model: "Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation of the Mass Media," (6) focuses on the fact that, when first published in 1988, "the twenty-nine largest media systems account for over half of the output of newspapers, and most of the sales and audiences in magazines, broadcasting, books and movies. …

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