Media, Propaganda and the Politics of Intervention

by Florian Zollmann (Author)
Monographs XIV, 276 Pages


Prominent media scholars have argued that the dissemination of propaganda is an important function of the news media. Yet, despite public controversies about ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’, there has been very little discussion on techniques of propaganda. Building on critical theory, most notably Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, Florian Zollmann’s pioneering study brings propaganda back to the forefront of the debate. On the basis of a forensic examination of 1,911 newspaper articles, Zollmann investigates US, UK and German media reporting of the military operations in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Egypt. The book demonstrates how ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘R2P’ are only evoked in the news media if so called ‘enemy’ countries of Western states are the perpetrators of human rights violations. Zollmann’s work evidences that the news media plays a crucial propaganda role in facilitating a selective process of shaming during the build-up towards military interventions. This process has led to an erosion of internationally agreed norms of non-intervention, as enshrined in the UN Charter.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • List of Illustrations
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1: Introduction Propaganda, New Militarism and Intervention
  • Analysis of news media’s double standards
  • Main aim of the study
  • New militarism
  • Chapter outline
  • Chapter 2: Liberal, Hegemonic and Gatekeeper Theories: A Reassessment
  • Introduction
  • The news media
  • Liberal theories: social responsibility and free market perspectives
  • Hegemonic theories: Marxist, political economy and functionalist approaches
  • Closing the gap: how the findings of empirical and conceptual studies match with theory
  • The early gatekeeper studies
  • Gatekeeper studies
  • Main gates: news media and the ‘indexing’ of official power blocs
  • Third factors (I): professional working routines
  • Third factors (II): uncontrolled events and technology
  • Lockmasters: news media and corporate-market constraints
  • Discussion and synthesis: liberal vs. hegemonic models
  • Chapter 3: The Propaganda Model of Media Performance
  • Overview
  • First order predictions of the propaganda model
  • An international propaganda model
  • Chapter 4: Method of Research and Case Selection
  • Content analysis
  • 1) Indignation
  • 2) Details of slaughter
  • 3) Responsibility
  • Coding
  • Qualitative coding
  • Framing
  • Case selection
  • Rationale for case selection
  • Research period
  • Population: the US, UK and German national press
  • The US sample
  • The UK sample
  • The German sample
  • Data selection
  • Chapter 5: The Politics of Intervention
  • Selective intervention
  • Indignation and dichotomised news media campaigns
  • Selective shaming: quantitative evidence (I)
  • The dynamics of indignant media campaigns: quantitative evidence (II)
  • Dichotomised news media campaigns: further findings
  • ‘Enemy’ countries
  • Račak
  • News media coverage
  • Benghazi
  • News media coverage
  • Houla
  • News media coverage
  • ‘Allied’ countries
  • Fallujah 1
  • News media coverage
  • Fallujah 2
  • News media coverage
  • Cairo
  • News media coverage
  • Chapter 6: The Politics of Atrocities Management
  • The framing of atrocity vs. war: nefarious, benign and constructive bloodbaths in the propaganda system
  • Atrocities management: quantitative evidence
  • Atrocities management: further findings
  • ‘Enemy’ countries
  • Račak
  • Benghazi
  • Houla
  • ‘Allied’ countries
  • Fallujah 1
  • Fallujah 2
  • Aggression
  • The Geneva Conventions
  • The military option
  • Indiscriminate military tactics
  • The targeting of hospitals
  • Supply and relief
  • Cairo
  • Chapter 7: Conclusion
  • General findings
  • Confirming the predictions of the propaganda model
  • The politics of intervention
  • Notes
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Bibliography
  • Primary References
  • Secondary References
  • Index

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There are many people who supported me in various ways during the time I conducted this research. I would like to especially thank my former doctoral supervisor, colleague and friend Richard Lance Keeble for his tremendous support and kindness. Richard’s help was invaluable and his work has served as an inspiration. My sincere gratitude goes to my other former doctoral supervisor Ann Gray. I am indebted to my colleague and friend the late John Tulloch. Very special thanks to John Pilger for his generous support and for being a role model throughout his enormous journalistic career. Very special thanks to Piers Robinson for his support, advise and the highly informative discussions we had (cheers to Keiths). Very special thanks to Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky for sharing their busy schedules to answering some of my questions as well as providing insightful help. Many thanks to David Edwards and David Cromwell for their inspiring work and support. Many thanks to Mary Savigar for acting as my editor with Peter Lang. Many thanks to Michael Doub and Kat Harrison from Peter Lang for all their help during the production of this book. A special thanks go to the following colleagues and friends who supported me in various ways: Jefferey Klaehn, Daniel Broudy, Andy Mullen, Joan Pedro, Katharina Nötzold, Ben O’Loughlin, Muhamad Al-Darraji, Sylvia Harvey, Lena Jayyusi, Donald Matheson, David Miller, ← vii | viii → Lydia Sargent, Michael Albert, Paul Street, Stephen Roblin, Uwe Krüger, Tobias Eberwein and Richard Bähr. Special thanks to Gerard de Zeeuw and Martha Vahl. Thanks to my former colleagues at Liverpool Hope University, particularly Jacqui Miller and Nick Rees, as well as the university for supporting some of my conference travels. I would particularly like to thank my mother Doris and my parental friend Werner for always believing in me, for supporting me and for teaching me how to write. The biggest thanks goes to my wife and love of my life Stefanie for always being at my side, for caring about and looking after me. Stefanie’s brilliant mind has been a great source of inspiration during many fruitful discussions.

Durham, May 2017

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| xi →


| xiii →


As I write, highly civilised men and women sitting at desks in London and Washington are approving sales to Saudi Arabia of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons which are being used to attack hospitals, schools and other civilian centres in Yemen. An appalling humanitarian crisis mounts in that country where a ruthlessly imposed blockade is leading to mass poverty and famine. Fleet Street and the broadcasting companies refer to it from time to time as the ‘forgotten war’.1 And yet it remains ‘forgotten’ simply because the mainstream media has chosen not to highlight in any consistent way the horrors being inflicted on Yemen. There is no hysterical, sustained, highly personalised demonisation of the leaders of Saudi Arabia – as applied in the past to dictators such as Saddam Hussein, of Iraq, Col Gaddafi, of Libya, and Slobodan Milošević, of Serbia. Can you imagine the Sun carrying the headline: ‘Evil Saudi King Salman blamed for massacre of innocents in Yemen.’ Dream on.

Western politicians, business leaders, arms sellers, royals, intelligence officials all suck up to the Saudi dynasty. One person is executed every two days there, women endure severe repression, the state’s funding of its extremist Sunni Wahhabi sect fuels terror across the globe. And yet both the US and UK back the election of Saudi Arabia to head a human rights panel at the UN. The occasional editorial or think-piece on Fleet Street expresses dismay – but there is no sustained outrage. ← xiii | xiv →

The complex operation of Fleet Street’s consensus (such as over Saudi Arabia) is one of the many subjects analysed in Florian Zollmann’s pioneering study. Here his focus is on the reporting of human rights violations by the FRY/Serbs in Racak/Kosovo, Gaddafi’s forces in Libya/Benghazi, the Syrian army in Syria/Houla, US/Coalition forces in Fallujah/Iraq and the Egyptian security forces in Cairo/Egypt. But in extending the study beyond Fleet Street to take in the leading corporate press in both the US and Germany, Florian Zollmann is able to argue that this consensus operates internationally. This is a particularly original and important finding of this study. Moreover, the research (which incorporates meticulously detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis) shows how campaigns in the international news media consistently shame ‘enemy’ while exempting ‘allied’ countries for their human rights violations.

Let us return for a moment to the US-led Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991. The hyper-coverage of this conflict in the global corporate media gave the appearance of transparency. Indeed, following the rapid assaults by the Western powers against puny, Third World states (Falklands 1982; Grenada 1983; Libya 1986; Panama 1989) a Big Victory needed to be seen to be won against a Big Enemy – if only to help ‘kick the Vietnam syndrome’ and (with the Soviet Union in terminal decline) provide a raison d’être for the rapidly expanding military/industrial/intelligence/media complex. Hence the manufacture of ‘Saddam’ as a global threat and credible enemy. But, in fact, the spectacle of the conflict mostly served to hide (and, effectively, keep secret) the reality in which up to 250,000 Iraqi soldiers were eliminated in a 42-day assault. One slaughter followed another. In 2016, the 25th anniversary of the conflict passed by unnoticed in the corporate media. Strange how such horrors can be quietly forgotten.

Indeed, the value of Florian Zollmann’s study is that it is refusing to let the horrors committed in our names by our governments and armed forces sink into the dustbin of history. Academics studying the coverage of conflicts may bury themselves in the documents, in the archives and in libraries – and spend hours searching the web. But all this hard graft is meaningless unless it is fired by a moral and political passion to expose the lies and myths on which obscenely costly military adventures are too often based. Florian is clearly fired by that passion – and so this text moves me profoundly.

Richard Lance Keeble
Professor of Journalism
University of Lincoln

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Propaganda, New Militarism and Intervention

Analysis of news media’s double standards

The news media in liberal democracies operates as a propaganda system on behalf of state-corporate elite interests. This propaganda function becomes most evident if news reporting on relatively similar human rights violations is compared. If countries designated to be ‘enemy’ states of the West conduct human rights violations, the news media highlights these abuses and conveys demands for action to stop human rights breaches. If, on the other hand, Western states or their ‘allies’ are the perpetrators of human rights violations, the news media employs significantly less investigatory zeal in its reporting and virtually no measures to stop abuses are conveyed. A radically dichotomised news media treatment of human rights violations can particularly be observed when human rights breaches are instrumentalised in the pursuit of narrow agendas. Take the following example:


XIV, 276
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 276 pp.

Biographical notes

Florian Zollmann (Author)

Florian Zollmann is a Lecturer in Journalism at Newcastle University. He holds a PhD in journalism studies from the University of Lincoln. Zollmann previously worked as a lecturer at the German Sport University Cologne, the University of Lincoln and Liverpool Hope University. Since 1993, he has been working as a freelance journalist for the magazine Publik-Forum. Zollmann’s research has been widely published in international academic journals and edited collections. With Richard Lance Keeble and John Tulloch he jointly edited Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution (Peter Lang, 2010).


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