The Propaganda Model – A look into Malaysia’s very own model

Written by Ahmad Mubin Rasydan bin Ahmad Faiz

Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) Propaganda Model was conceptualized to explain how the dominants and elites filter the raw material of the news according to their values and agendas. In most cases, this model has been utilized successfully by the state governments to control the political economy of news production. Whilst this is true is many countries, Malaysia’s unique multiethnic population and its inequality of the distribution of wealth is challenging the status quo of such model.

Malaysia’s population in 2016 consists of around 80 different ethnic groups, comprised of three major races; 68.6% of Malay, 23.4% of Chinese and 7% of Indian. As the largest ethnic in Malaysia, the Malays have always been in the driving seat of running the government. As with other state governments, the Malaysian government has control of several newspapers to serve as a propaganda material for their agendas. However, although Chinese is the second largest ethnic group in the country, it is a well-known fact that they possess economic superiority. The great purchasing power they possess generates high level of attraction to the advertisers, developing marketing campaigns to specifically target this group.

This is where the first and second filters of the Propaganda Model comes into discussion.   Most newspapers are highly reliant on the advertising money coming in from businesses and large corporations. These corporations on the other hand, are relying on the purchasing power of the consumers, which are within the reach of the newspapers. In Malaysia, The Star, owned by a Chinese political party affiliated to the government currently has the highest readership, especially among the middle-upper class Malaysians, which comprises mostly of the Chinese ethnic group. As the advertising money continues to be pumped in by large multinational corporations, The Star’s position as the most influential news provider in Malaysia among the non-Malays is strengthened. As the size of its parent company, Star Media Group Berhad becomes more established and holds substantial stakes, the paper is obligated to deliver news slanting to the preference of its readers. Hence, news reporting in The Star newspaper can be found to be somewhat critical of the decisions and actions of the Malay-led government, especially in regards to issues pertaining the privileges of the Bumiputeras in this country.

The third filter in the Propaganda Model refers to the utilization of official sources and experts to disseminate information or agendas convincingly to the public. As mentioned earlier, unlike other newspapers which the state government has vested its interest in, The Star is getting their financial support from businesses and corporations. The reciprocity of such support is to portray news which will benefit these establishments. The Public Relations arms from these corporations will be given high importance during news reporting. In addition, social related agendas also benefitted from this filter. In the recent formation of G25, which is comprised of former high-ranking individuals with liberal ideologies, The Star was seen to be giving this group an extensive coverage. It depicted them as experts in multiethnic relations and as champions in fighting against racial discrimination, thus reflecting the newspaper’s need to appease their readers, as well as their advertisers’ needs and affiliation.

By now, it should be mentioned that the elites controlling the newspaper is aware that they are threading a thin line between propagating their agenda for equality among Malaysians and their duty to work alongside the Malay-led government. This leads us to the fourth filter of news production which involves flak. Flak refers to threats or disciplinary actions that can be administered to the newspaper as an act to ensure that agendas are carried out dutifully. The dominant owner of The Star, which is the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), understands that they could not afford to allow the newspaper to publish extreme news about the Malay-led government therefore “flakking” is an option to exert control on the editors.

The final filter talks about anti-communism. However, to make this filter more relevant to present time, we shall refer this as an ideology filter that conforms to the majority of its readers.   As an example, the implementation of Hudud has been rejected widely amongst its non-Malays readers. Therefore, The Star is constrained to discuss the issue from an alternative point of view that differs from the dominant’s beliefs and values, so that its bottom line will not be affected.

As a conclusion, even though it is proven that the Propaganda Model manages to explain the political economy of news production, the concept perhaps need to be further deliberated to suit the climate of a multiethnic country such as Malaysia.