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Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation, aimed atserving an agenda. Even if the message conveys true information, it may be partisan and fail to paint a complete and balancedpicture. The primary use of the term is in political contexts and generally refersto efforts sponsored by governments and political parties.

A similar manipulation of information is well known, e.g., in advertising ,but normally it is not called propaganda in the latter context. The word propaganda carries a strong negative connotation thatadvertising does not.


Kinds of propaganda

Propaganda shares many techniques with advertising ; in fact, advertisingcan be said to be propaganda promoting a commercial product. However, propaganda usually has political or nationalist themes. It can take the form of leaflets , posters, TV broadcasts or radio broadcasts, and can also extend beyond these to any medium which can convey information.

In a narrower and more common use of the term, propaganda refers to deliberately false or misleading information that supportsa political cause or the interests of those in power. The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue orsituation, for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group. In thissense, propaganda serves as a corollary to censorship , in which the samepurpose is achieved, not by filling people's heads with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted withopposing points of view. What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to changepeople's understanding through deception and confusion, rather than persuasionand understanding. The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue but this may not be true for therank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.

More in line with the religious roots of the term, it is also used widely in thedebates about new religious movements (NRMs), both bypeople who defend them and by people who oppose them. The latter pejoratively call these NRMs cults . Anti-cult activists and countercult activists accuse the leaders ofwhat they consider cults of using propaganda extensively to recruit followers and keep them.

Propaganda is a mighty weapon in war . In this case its aim is usually to dehumanize theenemy and to create hatred against a supposed enemy, either internal or external. The technique is to create a false image in themind. This can be done by using special words, special avoidance of words or by saying that the enemy is responsible for certainthings he never did. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may befictitious or may be based on facts. The home population must also decide that the cause of their nation is just.

Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare .

Examples of political propaganda:

In an even narrower, less commonly used but legitimate sense of the term, propaganda refers only to false information meant toreassure people who already believe. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailedby doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitivedissonance ), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those inpower. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda.

Propaganda can be classified according to the source. White propaganda comes from an openly identifiedsource. Black propaganda pretends to be from a friendly source, but is actually from an adversary. Graypropaganda pretends to be from a neutral source, but comes from an adversary.

Propaganda may be administered in very insidious ways. For instance, disparaging disinformation about foreign countries may be encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Since fewpeople actually double-check what they learn at school, such disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents,thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation item is really a "well-known fact", even though no one repeating the myth isable to point to a definite authoritative source or facts. The disinformation is then recycled in the media and in theeducational system, without the need for direct governmental intervention on the media.

Such permeating propaganda may be used for political goals: by giving to citizens a false impression of the quality orpolicies of their country, they may be incited to reject certain proposals or certain remarks, or ignore the experience ofothers.

Russian revolution

Russian revolutionaries of the 19th an 20th centuries distinguished two different aspects covered by the English termpropaganda. In their terminology used two words: агитация(agitatsiya), or agitation, and пропаганда, orpropaganda.

Basially, Propaganda meant dissemination of revolutionary ideas, teachings of Marxism , and basic economical knowledge, theoretical and factual; while agitation meant forming publicopinion and stirring up political unrest.

See also: black propaganda , marketing , advertising

History of propaganda

In late Latin , propaganda meant "things to be propagated".In 1622 , shortly after the start of the Thirty Years' War , Pope Gregory XV foundedthe Congregatio de PropagandaFide ("Congregation for Propagating the Faith"), a committee of Cardinals to oversee the propagation of Christianity by missionaries sent to non-Christiancountries. Originally the term was not intended to refer to misleading information. The modern political sense dates from World War I , and was not originally pejorative.

Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The writings of Romans like Livy are considered masterpiecesof pro-Roman statist propaganda. The term itself originates with the Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Propagation ofthe Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando or, briefly, propaganda fide), the department of thepontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs innon-Catholic countries (mission territory). The actual Latin stem propagand- conveys a sense of "that which ought to bespread".

Propaganda techniques were first codified and applied in a scientific manner by journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist EdwardBernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud ) early in the 20th century . During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by the UnitedStates President, Woodrow Wilson to participate in the Creel Commission , the mission ofwhich was to sway popular opinion to enter the war on the side of Britain.

The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months so intense an anti-German hysteria as topermanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler , among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernayscoined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent", important concepts in practical propaganda work.

The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth ofLippman and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government. For the first half of the 20th centuryBernays and Lippman themselves ran a very successful public relations firm.

World War II saw continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, both byHitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the British Political Warfare Executive .

Nazi Germany

Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda ("Promi" in Germanabbreviation). Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministryshortly after Hitler took power in 1933 . All journalists, writers, and artists wererequired to register with one of the Ministry's subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theater, film, literature,or radio.

The Nazis believed in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler , Germany's Führer , was impressed by the power ofAllied propaganda during World War I and believed that it had been a primarycause of the collapse of morale and revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918 (seealso: November criminals ). Hitler would meet nearly every daywith Goebbels to discuss the news and Goebbels would obtain Hitler's thoughts on the subject; Goebbels would then meet withsenior Ministry officials and pass down the official Party line on world events. Broadcasters and journalists required priorapproval before their works were disseminated. In addition Adolf Hitler andsome other powerful high ranking Nazis like Reinhard Heydrich hadno moral qualms about spreading propaganda which they themselves knew to be false, and indeed spreading deliberately falseinformation was part of a doctrine known as the Big Lie .

Nazi propaganda before the start of World War II had several distinct audiences:

  • German audiences were continually reminded of the struggle of the Nazi Party and Germany against foreign enemies and internalenemies, especially Jews.
  • Ethnic Germans in countries such as Czechoslovakia , Poland , the Soviet Union , and the Baltic states were told that blood ties to Germany were stronger thantheir allegiance to their new countries.
  • Potential enemies, such as France and Britain , were told that Germany had no quarrel with the people of the country, but that their governmentswere trying to start a war with Germany.
  • All audiences were reminded of the greatness of German cultural, scientific, and military achievements.

Until the Battle of Stalingrad 's conclusion on February 4 , 1943 , German propaganda emphasizedthe prowess of German arms and the supposed "humanity" German soldiers had shown to the peoples of occupied territories (theexistence of the Holocaust was virtually unknown at this point). In contrast, British and Allied fliers were depicted as cowardlymurderers, and Americans in particular as gangsters in the style of Al Capone . Atthe same time, German propaganda sought to alienate Americans and British from each other, and both these Western belligerentsfrom the Soviets.

After Stalingrad, the main theme changed to Germany as the sole defender of what they called "Western European culture"against the "Bolshevist hordes." The introduction of the V-1 and V-2 "vengeance weapons" was emphasized to convince Britons of the hopelessness of defeating Germany.

Goebbels committed suicide shortly after Hitler on April 30 , 1945 . In his stead, Hans Fritzsche , whohad been head of the Radio Chamber, was tried and acquitted by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal .

Cold War propaganda

Large image of Joseph Stalin looms over Soviets

The United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensivelyduring the Cold War . Both sides used film, television and radio programming toinfluence their own citizens, each other and Third World nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty , in partsupported by the Central Intelligence Agency ,provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The SovietUnion's official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda, while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast greypropaganda. Both sides also broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises.

The ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Unionand People's Republic of China resulted in anumber of cross-border operations. One technique developed during this period was the "backwards transmission," in which theradio program was recorded and played backwards over the air.

In the Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from bothblack and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming,relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo .

One of the most insightful authors of the Cold War was George Orwell ,whose novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual textbooks on the use ofpropaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union, their characters live under totalitarian regimes in which language is constantlycorrupted for political purposes. Those novels were used for explicit propaganda. The CIA ,for example, secretly commissioned an animated film adaptation ofAnimal Farm in the 1950s.


In the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, psychologicaloperations tactics (PsyOps) were employed to demoralize the Taliban and to winthe sympathies of the Afghan population. At least six EC-130E Commando Solo aircraftwere used to jam local radio transmissions and transmit replacement propaganda messages.

Leaflets were also dropped throughout Afghanistan, offering rewards for Osama bin Laden and other individuals, portraying Americans as friends of Afghanistan and emphasizingvarious negative aspects of the Taliban. Another shows a picture of MohammedOmar in a set of crosshairs with the words “We are watching”, presumably to convince individuals and groups thatresistance to the American forces was futile.

Techniques of propaganda generation

A number of techniques are used to create messages which are persuasive, but false. Many of these same techniques, based on social psychology findings can be found under logical fallacies since propagandists use arguments which, although sometimesconvincing, are not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted, and that work is important, butit's clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandisticmessages. Identifying these propaganda messages is a necessary prerequisite to studying the methods by which those messagesare spread. That's why it is essential to have some knowledge of the following techniques for generating propaganda:

Appeal to fear : Appeals to fear seek to buildsupport by instilling fear in the general population - for example JosephGoebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman 's Germany MustPerish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.

Appeal to authority : Appeals to authoritycite prominent figures to support a position idea, argument, or course of action.

Bandwagon : Bandwagon-and-inevitable-victoryappeals attempt to persuade the target audience to take a course of action "everyone else is taking." "Join the crowd." Thistechnique reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that aprogram is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their interest to join. "Inevitable victory" invitesthose not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already, or partially, on thebandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is the best course of action.

Obtaindisapproval : This technique is used to get the audience to disapprove an action or idea by suggesting the idea ispopular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus, if a group which supports a policy is led tobelieve that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people also support it, the members of the group might decide to changetheir position.

Glittering generalities : Glitteringgeneralities are intensely emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that theycarry conviction without supporting information or reason. They appeal to such emotions as love of country, home; desire forpeace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. Though the words and phrases arevague and suggest different things to different people, their connotation is always favorable: "The concepts and programs of thepropagandist are always good, desirable, virtuous."

Rationalization : Individuals or groups may usefavorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify suchactions or beliefs.

Intentional vagueness : Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supplyits own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity orattempting to determine their reasonableness or application

Transfer : This is a technique of projecting positive ornegative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation,patriotism, etc.) to another in order to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. This technique is generally used totransfer blame from one member of a conflict to another. It evokes an emotional response which stimulates the target to identifywith recognized authorities.

Oversimplification : Favorablegeneralities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.

Common man : The"plain folks" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the commonsense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of theaudience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothes in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) inattempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

Testimonial : Testimonials are quotations, in or out ofcontext, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role(expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the officialsanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience toidentify itself with the authority or to accept the authority's opinions and beliefs as its own. See also, damaging quotation

Stereotyping or Labeling: This technique attempts toarouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates,loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traitsthat the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting oftenfocuses on the anecdotal .

Scapegoating : Assigning blame to an individual or groupthat isn't really responsible, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from theneed to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.

Virtue words : These are words in the value system of thetarget audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wiseleadership, freedom, etc., are virtue words.

Slogans : A slogan is a brief striking phrase that may includelabeling and stereotyping. If ideas can be sloganized, they should be, as good slogans are self-perpetuating memes.

See also doublespeak , meme , cult of personality , spin .

Techniques of propaganda transmission

Common methods for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science , books, leaflets, movies , radio , television , and posters. In the case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs ortalk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce "spots" or as long-running advertorials. The magazine Tricontinental , issued by the Cuban OSPAAAL organisation, folds propaganda posters and places one in each copy, allowinga very broad distribution of pro- Fidel Castro propaganda.

See also

Main article: List of topics related to public relations andpropaganda


  • Disinfopedia , the encyclopedia of propaganda
  • Howe, Ellic. The Black Game: British Subversive Operations Against the German During the Second World War. London:Futura, 1982 .
  • Edwards, John Carver. Berlin Calling: American Broadcasters in Service to the Third Reich. New York, PragerPublishers, 1991 . ISBN 0-275-93705-7 .
  • Linebarger, Paul M. A. (aka Cordwainer Smith ). PsychologicalWarfare. Washington, D.C., Infantry Journal Press, 1948 .
  • Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941. New York: Albert A. Knopf, 1942 .
  • Much of the information found in Propaganda techniques is take from: "Appendix I: PSYOP Techniques" from "PsychologicalOperations Field Manual No.33-1" published by Headquarters; Department of the Army, in Washington DC, on 31 August 1979 . ( partial contents here )
  • The PsyWarrior
  • New Scientist: Psychological warfare waged in Afghanistan

External links

Propaganda was a 1980s German pop groupsigned to Paul Morley and Trevor Horn 's ZTT record label.

Propaganda is also a compilation albumreleased in the United Kingdom which contains songs by various artists,including The Police and Joe Jackson .

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