It has become somewhat fashionable to talk about the protests and demonstrations in Iran. Nearly everyone seems to know Neda, but very few even know the events that have transpired in Peru, much less the names of any of the indigenous bodies pulled out of the rivers after being massacred by local police.
In the original preface to George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, he noted that the book was more than about the tyranny of the Soviet Union,
The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
In the same spirit of this critique of the "press" Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky offered a theory to further explain this form of self-censorship in a book called Manufacturing Consent; The Political Economy of the Mass Media. The theory is the Propaganda Model and it rests on the observation that since the media is owned by huge corporations with close ties to state power that there is a filtering process to weed out nearly everything but the "orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question."
The filter consists of roughly five filters:
- Ownership: when companies like GE, which is also a weapons company, own media outlets like NBC it is in the media outlets best interest not to discuss practices by the parent company.
- Funding: The media is heavily reliant on advertising revenue and as such is persuaded by the interests of those who purchase ad space.
- Sourcing: The media is also reliant on a steady source of information which is readily provided by large corporations and governments.
- Flak: Media biases can also be determined by external or internal pressure to say or not say certain things. I.e., the Bush administration used flak to have media outlets sit on the Abu Ghraib scandal for months.
- Anti-ideology: This can easily be seen in the case of Iran. In Peru the ideology is shared with the government/perpetrator of the massacre so there is an incentive to give less attention than that of Iran, where an "official enemy" can be routinely scorned by the government and reported through the press.
Using this theory to view the discrepancy in reporting between what has been going on in Peru and Iran can be very revealing.
In Peru the government issued a decree that allowed them to open up indigenous lands to foreign investment (which was being worked out in a so-called "free trade agreement" with the US) and the local indigenous people rose up, fought with police, protested and demonstrated against the government. What transpired was a massacre where up to 250 indigenous leaders are missing and suspected to have been killed, maybe even higher. Cross-examine this with the Iranian protests and we see considerable more coverage though much less carnage.
The ultimate question is: Does covering the events in Peru and Iran serve the interests of private and state power, or not? In cases where events serve those concentrated centers of power it is highly predictable that not only will they receive more coverage but the bias will be as equally predictable.