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'Propaganda' and the Market

‘Propaganda’ and the Market
In our Brave New World we are perhaps unable to see the wood from the trees when it comes to the misused term ‘propaganda’. We perhaps forget that ‘propaganda’ is really about blatant lies, because it is the market which is often used to control what we see, watch and hear, and the market is extremely powerful.

In the second part of a two-part series on the film industry and control, Dr. Matthew Alford, who is a Teaching Fellow in propaganda and theory at the University of Bath in England, shines some much-needed light into the dark forest of media manipulation.

Dr. Alford thinks that the market is the most important controlling factor that decides whether one film or another is distributed: "I think that the market is the most important thing. But it doesn't take much to throw something off in a market. It only takes a distributor to have slight doubts about a production to not promote it as heavily as it should be. This happens quite a lot, even when they are distributing their own films. A film such as ‘Redacted' was only released in 15 cinemas, for example.

Another example is a very short article that was in the Washington Post a few years ago saying that Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox and News Corps had taken a look at Fox's film output and noticed that they had put out films like ‘The Beach' and ‘Fight Club', and his chief of staff for entertainment lost his job the next day, because Murdoch was alarmed at what he called the ‘dark tone' of certain films. It didn't take much for 20th Century Fox to suddenly shift positions. If a film is not part of the main stream, it is very difficult for it to get any traction if it is not released by its own studio for a few weeks…"

The word ‘propaganda' is much misinterpreted, says Dr. Alford. "I almost never use the word; I sometimes use it as a way of introducing myself because if I say I am interested in dominant ideology, people are going to drift off. It is a very difficult word. It is to do with intent, with power, to do with whether there are conscious lies, whether there are falsehoods, so creating a succinct definition is problematic. I wonder if the term is necessary? You can tell if something is a lie or not, you can tell whether it is having a great effect or not, but sticking a label on it has become very fashionable because everyone likes to say: there's Russian propaganda, Russian bots or influence in the election and the Americans like to say that this is all propaganda but actually, all films are propaganda. Outlets tend to reflect power interests, that is the problem, it is not that a film has to fit every tick box in the term propaganda, I don't think that is necessary, let's just smell the BS and say when we see it rather than give it a label which only complicates the matter further."

A discussion takes place as to how people can defend themselves against lies in the media. Dr. Alford says: "We can read more, but that may not be the answer, as we can just end up believing more of the romantic, James Bondian stuff. Bear in mind that there are clear needs for very powerful organizations to very directly and clearly lie. I can give you an example from the 1990s which everyone accepts. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, there was wavering on the hill over whether the United States was going to respond.

Then a 15-year-old girl testified and said that the Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait had taken the incubators off babies and taken them to be used in Iraq in the most horrible war crimes that you can possibly imagine. Not until a year later was it discovered that girl was the daughter of the American ambassador to Kuwait, and she had been trained by Hill + Knowlton, the biggest PR company in the world to make those statements. This is universally accepted as being a major piece of war propaganda.

The girl is never heard from again, and there is no evidence that any of those things happened about the baby incubator story… that kind of thing is continual, and all of these organizations will do anything and have done anything [to maintain their positions]; you can look on Wikipedia to find most of this, you only need to spend a few days to get a pretty good idea of the organizations that you can definitely trust and the ones that you can't….This is all particularly dangerous when the stakes are very high, and War and Peace is a really important one. The United States, The UK and France make up something like 75% of global arms sales, and you need to sell those weapons, it's something like a $60 billion industry in the United States alone, and those are the players who are really closely tied to a nexus of interests in these governments. What do you expect to happen if that is what their livelihood is based upon."

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