A Chomsky-esque Analysis of Farmer Protests

Arguably the most important intellectual alive” according to The New York Times, Noam Chomsky is a veteran linguist and public intellectual who has immensely contributed to the field of media studies. My exploration of Chomsky’s writings happened during my graduation course in journalism. What intrigued me most about his works was the application of his studies to a plethora of current affairs. Talking specifically about his ‘Propaganda Model’ which he first presented with Edward. S Herman in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), the theory examines media control in the social, cultural and political sectors of society. In their book, Chomsky and Herman explain the effect of wealth and power on mass media interests and choices. They say, “[The model] traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalise dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public.

The parallels of four of the five filters presented in the Propaganda Model seem to be striking in the current times as India records one of the biggest protests in world history, led by Indian farmers protesting against the three farm laws passed by the BJP Government (the Central Government). The first filter is about ‘media ownership’ which proposes that since media organisations (mostly) run with a profit motive, they tend to serve the consumers with biased news items. Selective promotion of interests and opinions fit well in the explanation of this filter. A clear depiction of this is how clearly the protesting farmers have defined the biased media by simply turning their backs at them and not agreeing to be reported by the channels that contribute to lapdog media, also popularly known as the ‘Godi Media’ in India. The protestors seem to be aware of the business interests of media outlets as well as the hidden agendas of political figures who are principal investors in such outlets.

Advertising revenue is the second filter according to which stories that have a ‘buying mood’ in the economy find more space in the publications. What matters here is that these stories majorly rely upon the interests of the advertisers who see news more like a money-generating process than an information-driven service in journalism. This begins the marginalisation of news items as we evidently see in the current times. Top stories are altered so that there are more eyeballs on the news rather than understanding them from an objective point of view. While I agree that this very objectivity is over-celebrated in the world today, India sees a lack of representation of opinions because of conflict of interests and motives of the investors. 

News18 channel broadcasted a piece of news titled “Dilli Chalo War Cry: Who is misleading the farmers?” on November 26, 2020 that not only legitimised the injustice caused to the farmers but also assumed that they were being ‘misled’, further justifying or rather supporting the government’s decision and laws. This title brings me to the third filter that Chomsky termed as ‘sourcing’. It is important to note that the news that is broadcasted via television or print is provided through a source that can be either an agency or an individual. When the source itself decides a particular side, it only passes on information that it considers to be on the right side of the issue. This comprises the ethical and objective concerns of journalism. Asian News International (ANI), an Indian news agency has lately been criticised for such biased sourcing. While history records the largest protest in the world, reflecting the coexistence of hope and anger in the farmer’s agitation in India, ANI reported how a ‘delegation’ of farmers met the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and extended their support to the new farm laws. ANI is one of the biggest news agencies of India and its claims are widely consumed and believed.

Most of the mainstream media organisations have submitted themselves to propaganda by avoiding negative responses from the ruling party based on their published content. Here, ‘flak’, as the fourth filter, is used by such media to ensure that nothing against the will of the ‘right’ side is broadcasted as it might put the news outlet into trouble and bring down their relations and reputation amongst their viewers.

As we are moving towards the exponential development of the digital era, it becomes even more important to subject media to close scrutiny. News is travelling in no time and the repercussions of propaganda-based journalism can polarise the communities of the country instead of saving the sinking boat of democracy. Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model not only tells us about the limitations of objectivity in mass media but at the same time aligns with the manufactured consent as prevalent in the Indian context today during the Farmers’ Protest 2020. 


Himanshi Saini

A Journalism Graduate from the University of Delhi. Having a keen interest in multimedia journalism, I write and film on various social, political and critical issues revolving around media governance.

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