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Special Collection

Censorship and Propaganda

Collection launched: 28 Jun 2019

Censorship and propaganda have both regularly featured as topics within WPCC with a single issue dedicated to each as well as regular articles appearing in other contexts. Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model was explored in an entire issue reconsidering its impact and provenance twenty years on. The PM model with its six filters is a reminder that overt censorship of press media may not be a prerequisite for political control of the media. This 2009 issue argued that the model had applications to Hollywood (Matthew Alford), financial media reporting (Peter. A. Thompson) and to the political economy of China (Jesse Hearns-Branaman). Nor was this issue the first reconsideration of the PM as an influential framework as board member Colin Sparks had published 'Extending and Refining the Propaganda Model' in WPCC in 2007. This tradition continued in book form (including several of the issue's contributors) with the University of Westminster Press's publication of The Propaganda Model Today in 2018 referring back to many of those WPCC issue articles and forward to new contexts for the PM to explore or be refined by.

Two countries that have proved particularly fruitful arenas for WPCC to explore themes of censorship and propaganda have been China and Zimbabwe – the former in the context of a move to liberal economics and the latter within the difficult struggle to be freed of a colonialist legacy noted in both domestic and international reporting of the African nation. In 2005 WPPC articles highlighted the shifting boundaries of political communication (Eric M Mazango), professionalism (Winston Mano) and independence (Dumisani Moyo) in the Zimbabwean Press. Other articles noted the rise of Zimbabwean 'patriotic journalism' (Terence Ranger) and the Western framing and particular imperial legacies embedded in British (Wendy Willems) and Norwegian (Nkosi Ndleda) reporting on the African nation. Within these articles it is possible also to detect the 'small accommodations of comfortable lives' (of journalists) and the 'veiled censorship' or self-censorship of which Professor Jean Seaton refers to in her interview about censorship and the legacy of George Orwell which neatly encapsulates some of the key themes of an entire WPCC issue devoted to 'Ambiguities of Censorship: An International Perspective' . Sue Curry Jansen here also reflected on the history of the concept of market censorship. Perspectives on censorship in this issue also consider contexts in Latin America (Guatemala, Cara Haberman), Africa (Ethiopia, Tere S. Skjerdal) whereas Iris Niedhardt suggested there may have been a 'new colonialism' surrounding film documentaries on the Middle East which – via the structures of funding imposed – struggled to shake off stereotypes about the Arab world and tell the continent's 'Untold Stories', thus 'filtering' the truth for Western audiences.

Concerning China WPPC articles have assessed the limits of local press autonomy (Haiyan Wang), the role of the CCP Central Propaganda Department (Anne-Marie Brady) and nationalistic news narratives (Peter C. Pugsley). With the advent and now dominance of social media, the focus for Chinese news has recently shifted to initiatives like the soft power of crafted and sophisticated digital media such as the 'Sixth Tone' (Vincent Ni) website and the handling of differences over foreign policy news conducted via Twitter (Joyce Y. M. Nip and Chao Sun) where the possibility of other actors operating covert propaganda via social media is not ruled out by their data. Sheng Zou in a WPCC issue that focuses on the globalisation of Chinese media notes that adaptation to local audiences adds another twist to the battle between party line and freer media practice whereas Paul Gardner in a review of Maria Repnikova's book 'Media Politics in China' argues prospects for critical journalism are receding faced with adaptation and compromise that might include censorship more much more uncompromising than in recent years.

A whole new set of automated mechanisms affecting news communication is highlighted by Critical Digital and Social Media Studies editorial board member Mark Andrejevic in a WPCC interview 'Rethinking Privacy and Freedom of Expression in the Digital Era' . As he indicates not only does the problem of accountability lie at the heart of historic concerns over censorship and propaganda but lack of transparent accountability is also a major concern in respect of the fast approaching 'total surveillance society' - which he suggests we shall all, soon, be living within.