Hegemony – International Communication

By arguing that the propaganda model succeeds because there is no significant overt coercion from the state, Herman and Chomsky, in some ways, were following the European analyses of the role of ideology and state power in a capitalist society, articulated by, among others, the French Marxist Louis Althusser who called the media ‘ideological state apparatus’ (1971).
Another major influence on critical theorists as well as on cultural critics in the study of ideology is the writings of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). The impact of the ideas of Gramsci, who died in prison under the Fascist regime, has been widespread in critical studies of international communication. However, it was not until the translation into English of his most famous work, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, in 1971, that Gramsci’s ideas became a major influence in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Gramsci’s conception of hegemony is rooted in the notion that the dominant social group in a society has the capacity to exercise intellectual and moral direction over society at large and to build a new system of social alliances to support its aims. Gramsci argued that military force was not necessarily the best instrument to retain power for the ruling classes, but that a more effective way of wielding power was to build a consent by ideological control of cultural production and distribution.
According to Gramsci, such a system exists when a dominant social class exerts moral and intellectual leadership – through its control of such institutions as schools, religious bodies and the mass media – over both allied and subordinate classes. Social and intellectual authority is exercised by the government ‘with the consent of the governed – but with this consent organised, and not generic and vague’ in such a fashion that its right to govern is rarely challenged seriously. The ‘state does have and request consent but it also “educates” this consent’ (Gramsci, 1971).
One of the most important functions of the state, Gramsci wrote in his Prison Notebooks, ‘is to raise the great mass of the population to a particular cultural and moral level, a level (or type) which corresponds to the needs of the productive forces for development, and hence to the interests of the ruling classes’. Schools, courts and a multitude of ‘initiatives and activities … form the apparatus of the political and cultural hegemony of the ruling classes’ (Gramsci, 1971: 258-9).
This, he argued, was in contrast with a situation in which the dominant class merely rules, that is, coercively imposes its will on subordinate classes. This consent thus manufactured, however, cannot simply be assumed or guaranteed and has to be renewed, indicating that hegemony is more of a process – which is to be continually reproduced, secured and lost – rather than an achieved state of affairs.
In international communication, the notion of hegemony is widely used to conceptualize political functions of the mass media, as a key player in propagating and maintaining the dominant ideology and also to explain the process of media and communication production, with dominant ideology shaping production of news and entertainment (Hallin, 1994). Thus, though the media are notionally free from direct government control, yet they act as agents of legitimization of the dominant ideology.

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