In the modern, commercial world, propaganda has undoubtedly infiltrated the mass media in phenomenal leaps that are reminiscent of the cold war era where the technique was employed by the US and Russia to neutralize each others’ political, military and economic influence.
Today, more than ever before, propaganda is increasingly been used in the public arena to settle a multiplicity of competing and conflicting factors and aspirations (Barsamian & Chomsky 32). Governments continue to use mass media to peddle propaganda in times of conflicts with other governments, and politicians continue to bankroll media personalities and outlets during electioneering period to peddle political propaganda.
In the same vein, companies and media houses continue to heavily rely on propaganda to gain an upper hand over their competitors through subjective marketing and advertising strategies. It is the purpose of this essay to evaluate the obstacles faced by a propagandist and conditions that allow a propagandist to thrive successfully.
According to Linebarger, “propaganda consists of the planned use of any form of public or mass-produced communication designed to affect the minds and emotions of a given group for a specific purpose, whether military, economic, or political” (39).
Propaganda in mass media occurs when information is systematically biased, distorted, exaggerated, fabricated, or subjectively and inaccurately reported with the aim of receiving support, goodwill and a sense of legitimacy from the target audience (Shah para. 1). Propaganda is used to rally individuals behind a cause by exaggerating, misdirecting, cheating or misrepresenting the actual issues to garner support.
In mass media, propaganda is exhibited when agents charged with the responsibility of objectively reporting information use selective stories and partial facts to present the information (Barsamian & Chomsky 18). Also, propaganda in mass media takes place when the agents use one-sided sources of information, demonize the perceived enemy, use narrow range of discourse or engage in pre-emptive assumptions, false balances and framings (Shah para. 2).
The propagandist undergoes a multiplicity of obstacles and challenges to ensure that the message is received by the target audience. The first obstacle is to comprehensively understand the nature of the target audience that the propagandist wants to modify through the use of propaganda (Ellul 26).
It is the function of the propagandist to learn the social, cultural, economic, and psychological orientations of the target audience, a scenario that can present some challenges. A good knowledge of these orientations will assist the propagandist to devise techniques of psychological manipulation and social pressure aimed at influencing the thought systems and ideological convictions of the target audience.
Another obstacle comes in the form of propagandist’s ability to convince the target audience to follow a particular line of thinking. The Propagandist is known to use techniques such as assertions, bandwagon, card stacking and glittering generalities to win over the hearts of the target audience (Propaganda Techniques para. 1).
But this is unachievable if the propagandist lacks or has inadequate ability or capacity to convince the target audience. For example, a propagandist may use assertions especially in advertisement and marketing to present some enthusiastic statements as facts. To be successful, the propagandist must have the capability and capacity to convince the target audience that such statements reflect the truth without providing evidence to back up the claims.
Bandwagon technique is often used to compel the public to join in doing a certain activity because others have joined (Propaganda Techniques para. 2). Effective convincing techniques are needed to compel the target audience to join in since others have already joined. In many cases, the propagandist may lack these requisite techniques.
Lack of naturalness is yet another obstacle that propagandists face when trying to pass information across to the target audience (Carl para. 3). Propagandists are known to use vernacular, dialect, and homey words that have a wide appeal to the target audience. Studies have revealed that effective propaganda must utilize the latest vernacular of the particular target audience, including idioms, folklores, belief systems, idioms and jokes (Wilkins & Christians 139).
Also, an effective propagandist must be able to use the native dialect of the target audience in a perfect way. It is against this backdrop that the propagandist faces obstacles and challenges when trying to pass the information across to the target audience due to failure to use the audience’s vernacular and dialect in a natural way.
The propagandist can use homey words that are known to the target audience since such words have the capacity to elicit nostalgia, bringing the audience closer to the message. Lack of naturalness on the part of the propagandist may cause an adverse backlash from the target audience as it tries to begrudge what it considers efforts by the propagandist to mock it, its language, its people and its ways.
A multitude of factors and conditions influence the propagandist’s opportunities of success in passing the information across to the target audience. The conditions needed to make a propagandist more effective and successful are many and varied.
A successful propagandist must effectively master the speech, writing, dialect, cultural orientations and other aspects of life of the target audience (Linebarger 53). According to Linebarger, the ability to control information is a requisite condition for any propagandist who wishes to be successful.
The propagandist should have the capability to manipulate information that reaches the mainstream media or the target audience. For example, in conditions of war and civil strive, the military is able to control and manipulate information trickling in from the battlefields by organizing daily press briefings, planting stories, or providing tightly controlled access to warzones. This type of control ensures that the right kind of message goes through to the right audience (McQuail 530).
An individual can be successful in spreading propaganda through the use of euphoric environments. Indeed, propagandists are known to thrive perfectly well in conditions that trigger a lot of anxiety or happiness within the target audience (Johnstone & Bauer 52). For example, propaganda is known to fill the airwaves and other mediums of communication such as the print media and internet during political electioneering periods as propagandists try to outdo each other in the political landscape.
According to Johnstone & Bauer, “…it appears that the most effective propaganda does not play on public emotions, but provide the public with selective facts and allows them to come to their own conclusions” (63). In political campaigns, rivals present half-truth and subjective statements about their competitors to win support from the masses. Studies have revealed that propagandists who utilize such conditions are usually successful.
Social and economic strife have also been known to serve as successful breeding ground for propaganda. Indeed, under social conditions of information manipulation, monopoly and ruthless ethnic or racial conflicts, propagandists have tended to use and control the media as a tool to foster hatred and assemble populations to violence (McQuail 530).
Propagandists continue to utilize the disparaging social and economic conditions in less developed countries to cause havoc to the general populations. It should also be noted that individuals undergoing social and economic difficulties are vulnerable to so many manipulations, including propaganda. It is on this basis that propagandists utilize social economic difficulties facing a target audience to successfully pass their message across.
All in all, propagandists continue to utilize the above mentioned conditions to alter the world views, beliefs, and thought systems of their target audiences. In recent times, the US has incessantly used the available mass media channels to clean up its act in Iraq and Afghanistan (Wilkins & Christians 182).
The fact that the mass media is presently regarded as a requisite tool and strategy for propaganda peddling can no longer be denied. Indeed, the propagandists love to use the mass media as their default channels for passing propaganda since they reach a wider number of individuals and are regarded as trustworthy (McQuail 530)
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Johnstone, G., & Bauer, K.G.C. Sociology and Canadian Society. Emond Montgomery Publication. 2004.
Linebarger, P.M.A. Psychological Warfare. Washington: Combat Forces Press. 1954.
McQuail, D. McQuial’s Mass communication Theory. SAGE 2005
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Wilkins, L. & Christians, C.G. The Handbook of Mass Media Ethics. Taylor and Francis. 2008