It’s an oldie but a goodie: Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model. The classic five-prong explanation of how the media manipulates each and every one of us and ‘manufactures consent’ for political, economic and social policies via the stories it does and does not offer for public consumption.
The gist of the model is that the media is a business and, like a business, its number one concern is its own bottom line. So rather than editorial content catering strictly to informing you, dear reader, it serves almost entirely to satisfy the wants and whims of owners, advertisers and sources, to dish out flak and to instil fear. This is the propaganda model in a confined nutshell.
And it was the first thing that came to mind when, on the evening of February 8, Morgunblaðið ran an article titled “Ekki ný stjórnaskrá” (“No New Constitution”) stating that the government had decided not to go forward with passing the new constitution through parliament.
The article, which ran less than 100 words and provided no detail explaining this development, led to immediate public outrage expressed through social media channels. People linking to the article on Facebook and commenting on it lashed out at the coalition government of the Social Democrats and Left-Greens, accusing them of being anti-democratic for daring to take away the prospect of a new constitution that had been voted for by the people in a referendum just this past October.
Interestingly, this same headline—which would be considered pretty big news—didn’t run on other media channels, RÚV, Vísir or DV. The entire weekend passed and these other major news sources didn’t report that the constitution had been canned. Did Morgunblaðið get the mother of all scoops or could something else be at play here?
A LOVE AFFAIR FOR THE AGES
Almost since its establishment in 1913, Morgunblaðið has been in bed with the conservative Independence Party. So tight was the bond between the paper and party that Morgunblaðið’s editors and reporters sat in on Independence Party meetings until 1983. That year, Geir Hallgrímsson, who was both chair of the board at Árvakur, which purchased the paper in 1919, and the chair of the Independence Party, put a stop to it, as the romance looked bad for the paper and the Party.
Coincidentally, 1983 marked the beginning of the fishing quota system in Iceland, which would eventually make a handful of people filthy rich by permitting them to pre-sell or rent the rights to yet-to-be-caught fish. The two largest shareholders of Árvakur are Guðbjörg Magnea Matthíasdóttir and Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson who, through their other companies (Ísfélag Vestmannaeja hf and Samherji hf, respectively), lay claim to a total 7.6% of the nation’s fishing quota.
As talks have been brewing over the years about how unfair the quota system is and how badly it has damaged small fishing communities around Iceland, the Independence Party has remained staunchly against changing the system and Morgunblaðið has maintained a strictly pro-quota editorial policy. In fact, the Independence Party voted at its national congress on February 24 to withdraw Iceland’s application for EU membership, partly because it would have an effect on the existing quota system.
As if the Independence Party and Morgunblaðið couldn’t be any more joined at the hip, in September 2009, Morgunblaðið’s fishing baron owners appointed Davíð Oddsson as editor. For a quick rundown of his resume: Davíð was Chair of the Independence Party from 1991 through 2005, Prime Minster of Iceland from 1991 through 2004, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2005, and Chair of the Central Bank in 2005 until being ousted in 2009 after the economic collapse. He is the godfather of the Independence Party, is said to still hold great sway within the party, and has been named by international media as one of the 25 people responsible for the global collapse.
SEE FILTER #1: OWNERSHIP
So was Morgunblaðið ahead of the game when they reported the death of the constitution? Well, it turned out that the constitution was not dead. Talks were to continue after the weekend, with leaders of the Social Democrats and Left-Greens confirming their dedication to wrapping up the matter before the end of this parliamentary session, including a detailed review and discussion of the notes that had been submitted to Alþingi from the Venice Commission, the constitutional advisory arm of the Council of Europe.
But it’s election season. The Independence Party had been hinting toward a vote of no-confidence in the coalition government of the Social Democrats and Left-Greens for weeks (a proposition that was put forward on 21 February by an MP for the Movement), and it’s in the best interest of Morgunblaðið’s owners, and their peers in the world of business and fishing quotas, for the current government to be seen as a failure and for the Independence Party to take the helm once more.
And so a negative story was put out in the world to fester over the weekend, to stir up negative public opinion of the two political parties that the Independence Party needs to best at the upcoming elections, and to linger even after a string of MPs responded that the constitutional talks were still a go.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Consider the source. Not all news is propaganda, but it’s not always as cut and dry as it seems, either.