Friday, October 19, 2007

Thoughts on Propaganda

Humayun and PragueTory have inspired me (is this thus a meme now?). The big question with propaganda is whether it is propaganda in itself. We can call something a good argument, if we agree and support the communicator and believe their motives are honourable; or say 'pah, that's just propaganda' if we disagree and dislike communicator and their motives; what does that tell us? Nothing?
The problem is that we live in a society of spin. If I am late I blame traffic, buses etc; seldom would I say I couldn't be bothered to get my sorry XXXX into gear and get somewhere on time when that is really the truth. This means that 'spin' tends to be a universal code of language which we all accept and choose to ignore or highlight. We decide what is acceptable 'SMART' spin, a white lie maybe, in what context, maybe to make someone feel better about themselves; and what is bad, unacceptable and misleading.

The problem for politics is that it doesn't matter if the motives are really honourable, or that a political actor/activist, is trying to present a persuasive case; often it is simply consigned to the dustbin as propaganda - 'Well they would say that wouldn't they' or 'They just want our money / votes'. Looking outside of the UK to the US, Obama is building a populist campaign around big tent politics. His purpose maybe to reunite America, the bottom line is he wants to raise money to support his campaign for he Democratic nomination. So do we shout propaganda, is it misleading and manipulative, or do we shout 'good campaigning' as it is persuasive and appealing. It is probably a question of perspectives!


Humayun said...

I think 'propoganda value' i.e how much a person considers something to be propoganda is a personal matter, depending on the persons personal beliefs and ideas (morals). So for example if someone studies communication he/she is more aware of propoganda within a communication or even a political sphere.

For the average jo blog (not being deregotary to those who dont study communication), propoganda is a white lie essentially.

So, within a political campaign, the results and emphasis on the political party portrait by the media or critics will determine whether a person believes it to be propoganda or it is something valued. It also depends, I think, on peoples perception of an individual, if someone thinks that person looks and acts 'acceptable' then they will take on board what the person.

So propoganda is dependent on the individual, and this follows my earlier argument, propoganda is within the society sphere which covers all personal and professional spheres.

However, if the political party is stating a policy for example and highlighting the positive parts of it, then in my opinion that is public relations. This is because public relation is about building mutual relationships and positive reputation.

How someone interprets this is dependant on their personal morals, so someone who doesn't agree with the party or has a strong belief against this type of messaging would probably brand it as propoganda. Other people might look at it differently.

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Hum, I think we agree largely. Propaganda is perceptual; though we could also step back out of our roles as either PRs, students, academics etc and also suggest that due to the way that politics is communicated, using PR, and the way the message is then distorted by the media, that because both have political ends it is all propaganda designed to manipulate the receiver's attitudes, beliefs, opinions and behaviour. Perhaps rather than shrugging and saying it is a product of society, we could also be a little more idealistic and say that society may well change if we can control the level and nature of persuasion and dcide on what level of PR is acceptable (i.e. is witholding key facts) then the average Jo Blog may not be as cynical of all communication. Maybe?!?

Humayun said...

Darren, I agree, however, only within an idealistic world this would be possible.

In my opinion, the idea of 'liberal' and 'democracy' is what conflicts with the idea you have suggested. Please correct me if i'm wrong, but you are essentially suggesting to control the the controlled. Wouldn't this be a breach of 'freedom of speech'?

On the one hand,I think it would be extremely difficult to create boundaries within a communication proffession and say that beyond this boundayr this will be considered to be 'propoganda'.

On the other hand, i think it would be better for society to accept propoganda, as well as the communication industry. The important thing to do, is not to isolate propoganda as purely a communication problem.

Further to the above, it is important to make distinctions between PR and Propoganda is vital, theoratically and practically. If this doesnt happen, and through technology and globalisation the PR industry will dissolve before the true fruits of the industry have flourished.

This could be done in my opinion, through reflective research, if that is the right term? Another words, examining the existing research done on PR and ironing out the black areas, and instead of procrastinating and thinking of making codes of practises, is to establish within a research sphere the boundaries of PR.

By operating through research, it will give the industry to explore without damaging the reputation of the PR industry.

Your thought please?

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Mmmm, control the controlled, is there not a societal backlash against promotional communication? If yes, then is this going to mean that there is less promotion or more sophisticated (hidden) promotion? If the former then we may be moving towards a society where propaganda is seen as unacceptable and where honesty is valued.

Your comments on weeding out the black propaganda from PR is control, but who controls. I would suggest that PR is driven by society. It is society that accepts PR, advertising and marketing, it decides what is acceptable and what is not. If you go back to Social Judgement Theory, if overt persuasion that does good for the client but not for society is blocked as propaganda by key audiences (it falls within their latitude of rejection) it will be abandoned as ineffective communication.

Humayun said...

I think there is a complex relationship between, society and communicators and the media.

From a societal perspective, I would argue that society believes that it is responsible for the decisions it makes. Further to this, it is argued that through modern technology and 'post-modern' generation, society can make sound judgement as to what is right and wrong. It could also be argued that because of fragmentation and the different media channels available society are better equipped to make a 'sound' judgement. In effect, I am suggesting that society believes that communicators(promoters) are a danger to society and has established this through wide source of information.

Whether this is argument is true is questionable!

In my opinion, society is in a state of 'eureka', whereby, the invasion of modern technology, globalisation and fragmentation has saturated information beyond control. Society is critical of communicators, which is justified, however, judgement based on little knowledge is more dangerous than propoganda itself. Historically, promotional marketing was introduced to encourage the idea of consumerism so that economies could boost their wealth which would result a healthier society. I believe this role still exists only done differently, it is a question of survival - society is in no way capable of making sound decisions because of fragmentation of information. So someone needs to break down the information so that society can understand and make decisions.

The idea of backlashing is dangerous - and the communicators are responsible for this. In my opinion this has happened because the communicators take action before thinking of the consequence, instead of thinking of the consequence and then taking the neccessary action. In other words jumping the gun, I think PR people are jumping the gun by trying to professionalise the PR industry, I also think PR people jumped the gun when using new technology. The industry needs to identify its role, instead of defining it's role as it goes along.

Control is with everyone, with individual, a group, a organisation, a government, a country. COntrol exists on many different level, yet the principle of gaining control is the same, it is gained through trust (within a democracy). The barrier of trust between society and communicators is non-existant, and through my own eyes I feel as though the industry is not helping itself. Cicero, once said with any approach, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. WIth any situation this principle should be followed, yet it seems as though the communication industry is doing exactly the opposite, working backwards and starting from the end.

If trust is not gained, i feel as though a communist society will evolve, and as the 'west' super impose their idea of 'liberal democracy' it is losing control within its own society the very principle that democracy is built upon, trust. The fundamental question is whether democracy that we live in is actually democratic?
Or has someone got the concept of democracy wrong?

The Last Leftie said...

What is democracy? Is it equality of voice, justice? Is it the ability to participate, or not, and to choose which? Is it the right to seek alternative viewpoints? Far from communism we live in a capitalist dictatorship where the ideas of the market are sovereign and money competes with money to have the loudest voice. Propaganda is rife in all pronmotional communication and keeps society subservient to fashion, spending and the market. As Marx noted this is the commodification of our souls, we are what we buy because we are told we need the latest ipod, phone, top, jeans, why because we are told this. The only backlash is against obvious lies, society acquiesces in the face of the most sever propaganda onslaught possible, marketing communications.

Humayun said...

I think it's easy to see the problems, but what is the solution to the 'capitalist dictatorship'?

After refllecting on previous comments I think there is no elite in society, instead I think society itself is self distructing because people have lost the ability to be responsible.

Fewer people participate in political debates, you only need to look at the number of people who vote! If people do not vote how can they be represented? So it is not the 'elite' of society imposing the 'dictatorship' values, instead it is society self distructing. Whether this is because of capitalism or communication is only the surface of the problem.

*people have brains, why dont they use it?

Histrically, Fashion and entertainment has always existed for example during roman periods you had gladiators as form of entertainment, you had the olympics in the past as a form of entertainment. So I think that somehow entertainment is a tool that is used to enforce dictatorship is not a strong argument.

People in todays age have modern technology have access to a diverse range of information, however many do not feel it neccessary to research or look in to something. Instead they are happy to enjoy themselves and moan about problems, even if the opportunity exists to change something. For example, the student fee policy, less than a hundred people particpated in certain university. Another example is the smoking ban, how many smokers voted on the matter?

The problem is on the morals and values that people are being brought up on, its about themselves and based on monetary values - so for example how much I can earn, instead of how much can I contribute to society to improve it. This principle isn't imposed on people, someone doesnt put a gun to your head! People make their own decisions about what they want in society. It is human nature to want more and more!

So no matter which political system is implemented problems will always occur in society. The only way to stop any problems is by getting rid of people, and I believe that's what is happening - global warming, global wars, increased health problems.

Yet people in society believe they are superior to anything else, and they feel through technology and research they are capable of overcoming any problems. As a result this is causing the self distruction of society.

More wars, more crime, more divisions among societies, clash of power not ideology. Greed exists at all level of society whether you look in the political, corporate or even societal sphere- why? because of people themselves.

Democracy in my mind is something that tries to limit the damage imposed on society whether it is through justice or communication tools such as PR. Giving every individual the ability to make decisions within an environment that is identifiable to that person. (Does that make sense?)