Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Can we really spot propaganda?

There is a strong cultural significance surrounding the term propaganda. It is manipulative, it appeals to base desires, and is most associated with the ideological authoritarian regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, etc. So propaganda is a term we use to denigrate communication, to question the validity of the substance as opposed to the objectives of the communicator. Thus, from the US, mayor Jan Mill's communication is described thus by an opponent: "I felt like it was just simply political propaganda simply because it was filled with mis-statements about the truth." Apart from the wonderfully hedged phrase "mis-statements about the truth", does this miss a fundamental point?

According to one online dictionary propaganda is "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person (or) ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect." The key points here are the idea of propaganda being communication that deliberately helps or injures a cause. So it could be lies, exaggerations etc, or it could be facts.

Taking a current example, by focusing on the age of Menzies Campbell, both media editorials and members of his own and opposition parties deliberately undermined his position. The fact that he was unable to rebut those comments made the campaign successful. The fundamental idea here is that propaganda is basically communication with a purpose, that purpose being to affect the attitudes, opinions, beliefs and behaviour of receivers. So we could argue that every newspaper that offers a biased argument, every slanted piece of news that offers facts from a single perspective, every person who tries to make themselves appear better than they really are (which we all do), and every party that spins is doing propaganda? Can't we?


Humayun said...

"Propoganda' the word in itself is 'propoganda' and it is something that I find rather unique. Propoganda to a society is something negative, the dark, shadowy world of the communication world. Mostly associated with PR?

Yet I think propoganda exists on many different levels of society, professional, personal, academic etc, etc. So it would be unfair to suggest that propoganda is purely PR related. All because PR deals with communication - it isn't propoganda. It suprises me how academics at University willingly associate PR with propoganda! Why??

Propoganda is considered to be negative within society, PR is something very different to Propoganda because its aims are to build relationships - which is positive. It may be argued that some PR people bend the truth or only show some side of an argument, but who doesnt? Lawyers do the same in court, accountants do it in reporting figures... yet somehow it is PR which is propoganda!

Politically, the question of presentation comes in to mind. How best is something presented to the public in order for them to firstly, understand the issue or subject. Secondly, Reaches the widest possible audience. If the chancellor of a country broke down every penny in the budget report can you imagine how long it would be? The speech would last for a decade! So for that very reason it is important to be selective in the information that is presented. I hear you say that is propoganda! I would dis-agree, because the intention is not negative or dark it is positive.

However, the 45 min claim made by TB before the war, was this propoganda? On the one hand it could be argued that it was because they wanted to go to war. On the other hand, it was claimed it was for the interest of the people and the threat was serious.

I suppose my main debate is, propoganda is something that is done by everyone not just by communicators. It is unfair to put the label of propoganda, which society believes to be negative on PR people. Propoganda should not be associated with communicators and the sooner the people within the communication world realise this the better for the industry. Instead propoganda should be looked upon as a societal problem just like obesity!

Praguetory said...

My political website was propaganda, but then so our most people's.

Whether that is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.