Compilation of Essays on Propaganda

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on the Meaning of Propaganda
  2. Essay on the Techniques Used in Propaganda
  3. Essay on the Conditions for Propaganda Success
  4. Essay on Propaganda and Education
  5. Essay on the Similarities between Propaganda and Persuasion

Essay # 1. Meaning of Propaganda:

Propaganda is an act of advocacy. It is a deliberate attempt to use one-sided statements to a mass audience. The aim of propaganda is to convert people to the views of the person who undertakes it. He may use many kinds of symbols like words, gestures, flags, images, music, etc. He may use various media of communication oral, printed, pictorial. He may use the newspapers, pamphlets, etc.

In other countries radio will also be used. But in India this is not possi­ble since the central government owns the radio stations. But on several occasions other countries and other organizations use the radio for purposes of propaganda. For example, with the outbreak of hostilities between Pakistan and Bangladesh, the revolutionaries used their own transmitting station to inform and enthuse the people.

Kautilya (4th century B.C.) gives detailed instructions in his Artha-sastra on how to keep people loyal to the king and how to influence the opinion of the people in the enemy kingdom.

Similarly, Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece have described the techniques of pro­paganda. Thus using a number of techniques to deliberately alter the views of the people is nothing new. It was being done in the most ancient days with the use of the media available at the time.

It was during World War I (1914-18) that large scale techniques were used by the nations at war. It became a fine art in the hands of Hitler and Mussolini during the thirties. After World War II (1939-44) when the hostilities between U.S. and U.S.S.R. increased, the era of “cold war” started by using all kinds of techniques to shatter the “morale” of the enemy country.

It is well known that the Indian National Congress used many songs during the period from 1920 to 1947 to rouse the masses to fight the British Imperialism. Music is a very powerful source of rousing people. This is how the song “Vande Mataram” became the battle cry throughout the country. The sentiments in favour of patriotism were roused by the use of the image matrubhumi. Later on songs were composed to rouse the people in favour of the formation of linguistic states through songs composed on matrubhasha.

Essay # 2. Techniques used in Propaganda:

A brief description of the techniques that have been used in pro­paganda may now be given:

1. Repetition:

An impression becomes more permanent and influen­tial with repetition. The mere currency of a statement lends credibility to it. People are ready to accept a statement that is commonly asser­ted by others. The familiar example of the use of repetition is com­mercial advertisement. There will be repetition of the brand name both in newspaper advertisements and in radio commercials.

2. Exaggeration:

Exaggeration is another commonly used technique in commercial advertisement. It not only announces the product but also asserts that it is the best in the market, that it is “unrivalled,” that it is used by “millions” and so on. The same techniques are adopted by the politi­cal propagandist and the religious missionary.

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3. Identification:

It is not possible for a stranger to persuade us, except by a “confidence trickster.” We are easily impressed by those with whom we are familiar and with whom we are closely identified.

There are several ways of achieving identification:

(a) The most obvious is to use the familiar expressions;

(b) Another way is to exhibit familia­rity with the listner’s or reader’s environment; this makes the message not only familiar but also concrete;

(c) Another method is identification with the interests of the people to whom the message is directed.

During the World War II, the German and Japanese radio broadcasts to India emphasised that they were out to protect Indian interests. It is a familiar fact that the politician, when he is in opposition, always has the interests of the poor and down-trodden as the dominant theme in his speeches.

4. Appeal to Authority:

Illustrations can be given from commercial advertisement. The leading citizen’s picture, or the picture of the much admired film-star is given along with the message that he or she uses the product. Similarly the political propagandist uses the name of the national leaders to enhance his own prestige and credibility.

5. Appeal to Prevailing Discontentment:

Propaganda to succeed must take up the issues which are agitating the minds of the people in the group. This is how many agitations against the ruling party can make an impression when there is a price rise. Mere agitation for the sake of agitation can never catch the imagination of the public unless the agitation is linked up with some widespread dissatisfaction in the group like price rise, unemployment, etc.

6. The Influence of Slogans:

Finally, attention may be drawn to the profound influence of slogans, the short, catchy phrases. During the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Indian War of Independence in 1857, slogans played a very significant role. Because people can understand them, they are moved by them. It is needless to draw attention to the great influence of the slogans like “Quit India,” “Do or die” etc. in 1942 or “Garibi Hatao” in 1970.

Essay # 3. Conditions for Propaganda Success:

Propaganda in favour of some social objective like non-discrimina­tory communal relations or positive attitudes toward organized labour can be effective only under certain conditions.

According to the results of researches, at least one or more of the three conditions must be satisfied if the propaganda campaign is to be successful, namely:

(1) Monopolization,

(2) Canalization and

(3) Supplementation.

Monopolization of all mass media available is possible only under two conditions:

(a) In a totalitarian state where the government has the entire control over all the mass media and

(b) In a democratic government during war or when the society is in a crisis.

However, if there is a general discussion and if there is the possibility of counter propaganda then the result will be neutralization.

This is exactly what happens in political campaigning in a democratic country. Studies in voting behaviour show that the campaigns have no effect on the people.

In a broad way there are three groups of people when there is full-scale campaigning going on:

(a) Those in favour,

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(b) Those against, and

(c) Those who are indifferent.

Generally, it is the third group that is in the majority.

Those in favour will read all the news­paper articles, attend the public meetings, etc., which reinforce their opinion and similarly those against will read only the other set of articles. Thus propaganda will not bring about any change in those with firm convictions, nor does it bring about any large-scale dramatic changes in those who are uncommitted. In other words, the exis­tence of controversy and the opportunities for free expression of respective views will not facilitate the success of propaganda. It will succeed only when there is monopolization and all dissent is cut out.

Propaganda techniques cannot succeed when the aim of the pro­pagandist is some change in basic values of the group. This is illustra­ted by the respective fates of the DK and DMK (and now the ADMK) parties in Tamil Nadu. The DK party seeks a radical change in the group. It wants the group to give up all the cherished values and religious sentiments and adopt hostile attitudes towards those in favour of these values and sentiments.

The agitations launched by them have had only temporary and local successes. But the more liberal campaigns of the DMK party have had greater success. Thus, propaganda techniques can have success if they aim at merely canali­zation rather than elimination of, or total change in, the basic values of the group. Reference may be made in this connection to the techniques used by Gandhi.

Though he went against a number of “so-called” basic attitudes like untouchability, he reinforced the really basic values of the group like prayer etc. Thus propaganda techniques which aim at the canalization of the basic attitudes can succeed, not those which endeavor to change them completely.

The third condition under which propaganda techniques may succeed effectively is when the mass propaganda is supplemented by face-to-face contacts. Mass media by themselves cannot sustain any mass movement. There must be widespread local organizations which get into touch with the local people and organize lectures, discussions, get-to-gathers etc.

The Soviet Union in Russia, the Nazi party in Germany and Maoism in China had a network of local organizations which maintained face-to -face contacts with people. The Soviet leaders had organized “Red corners,” “reading huts,” and “listening stations” where groups of citizens were exposed to mass media in common and where the local ideological elite could get into touch with the rank and file and explain to them the contents of the newspaper articles and the communist constitution.

Thus, propaganda and indoctrination programmes can succeed only when local organizations promoting face-to-face contacts exist as adjuncts to the mass media. It may be pointed out that the existence of local organizations at the village and taluk levels is responsible for the success of the Indian National Con­gress right from 1920. The other parties have not been able to build up such local committees and leadership, except the communist parties in limited areas.

Essay # 4. Propaganda and Education:

The aim of society should be to educate the citizens so that they are able to discriminate between propaganda used to promote anti-social objectives and that used to improve the conditions of living and to enhance the value of the individual in the society.

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The chief aims of education are:

(a) To give knowledge and informa­tion and

(b) To enable the individual to be critical in his outlook.

On the other hand, the aim of propaganda is to convert people to accept certain propositions and views; in other words, indoctrination. The aim of the educative process is to convince while the aim of propa­ganda is to convert.

The teachers will present both aspects, those in favour and those against, and leave it to the individual to make his own choice or remain neutral. But the aim of the propagandist is to present only one aspect of the problem and decry the other aspect so that the individual will accept the position promoted by him and reject the other positions.

The objective of the superior kind of newspapers is to educate public opinion. While in the editorial columns, the editor of the newspaper expresses his own opinion, in the other columns he will publish the opinions for and against; this will enable the critical readers to form their own judgements.

Essay # 5. Similarities between Propaganda and Persuasion:

The term propaganda has a bad reputation since it is associated with the deliberate manipulation of public opinion to serve the interests of a small group. It is associated with the use of special techniques to increase the power of a small group over the majority.

The term persuasion is associated with convincing the people of the desirability of certain beliefs, actions etc. The moralist persuades, people to overcome their egoism, selfishness and personal cravings, in the interest of some supernatural order, or of their own higher selves, or of the society.

However, there is no doubt that the two terms are used inter­changeably.

The aim of the social psychologist is to study the phenomenon. But there is always the fear that the scientific knowledge may be used by interested people to promote their anti-social interests like, for example, Hitler and Goebbels, who used the various techniques to make the Germans strive to annihilate the Jews and bend their energies to become the masters of the world.

There is no doubt that propa­ganda or persuasive communication may be used to manipulate people. But this is not due to the techniques themselves. It is rather due to the ends to achieve which the techniques are used. There is an analogy here to the recent advances in knowledge in chemistry and atomic physics.

Knowledge in chemistry has enabled the development of medi­cines to fight disease; it has also enabled unscrupulous governments to develop gases to kill the enemy civilians. Similarly the knowledge of atomic physics can be used to generate power for constructive civilian uses, as is being done in India or to prepare atomic bombs as in China, Russia and United States.

In the same way the techniques of propaganda may be used for anti-social purposes or to enable people to know the dangers of population explosion and change their attitudes in order to learn the techniques to control the birth rate and to accept the small-family norm.

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SAKHRI Mohamed

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