The New(s) Face of Propaganda
by Massimo Ragnedda
ZNet, June 15, 2005
"It is really no more than the organization
of method designed to persuade people to think and behave in a
certain way." (Taylor, 1990: 11)
The word "propaganda" has been
used in several way over time, and its definition has often been
debated. In spite of this debate, it is possible to find a point
of agreement about its meaning. Propaganda is persuasive communication.
Using Taylor's words, it is possible to say that:
"Propaganda is essentially an organized
process of persuasion" (Taylor, 1990: 11) and also "it
is a 'dirty trick' utilized by 'hidden persuaders', 'mind manipulators'
and 'brainwashers' - Orwellian 'Big Brothers' who somehow subliminally
control our thoughts in order to control our behavior to serve
their interest rather than our own" (Taylor, 1995: 1).
In spite of its respectable derivation,
after World War Two it became an epithet. Indeed, the word comes
from Latin and means "to propagate" and was used for
the first time by Gregorio Pope, who founded the Santa Congregation
of Propaganda in 1622. Its aim was to fight, with preaching, the
pagan faith. This congregation intended to lever on the fear of
hell and above all on illiteracy and people's innocence to discipline
them and to improve its power (Jackall, 1995: 2). Originally this
notion was used to define the propagation of a faith, without
any other implication. Indeed, according with this model of propaganda
elaborated by Santa Congregation, propaganda has been applied
to any group or organization set up to spread a doctrine however
before it was a neutral word. For many people now, propaganda
is synonymous with dictatorships or lies, and this word has a
negative connotation. As Doob wrote:
An effective way in Anglo-Saxon society
to insult, belittle, or expose a man is to call him a propagandist.
 what was called propaganda acquired such unpleasant connotation
during the 1920's and 1930's that the word was avoided whenever
possible when war began again in 1939. Both in United States and
Great Britain, consequently, the home front, allies, and neutral
countries were provided not with "propaganda" but with
information. (Doob, 1948: 231)
What the First World War has showed is
that public opinion could not be ignored by government approach
because it is a important issue. It is also determining for the
military strategy. So after that war, the propaganda began to
emerge as the principal instrument of control over public opinion,
but above all, it is with the dictatorship and the repression
before and within the Second War World, that Propaganda became
a "controversial word". Indeed in dictatorial states,
propaganda is an instrument of state power, to increase its power
Propaganda in authoritarian and democratic
"My personal feeling is that citizen
of the democratic capitalist societies should undertake a course
of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves form manipulation
and mind control."
(Chomsky, 1982: vii)
When most think about propaganda, they
usually think about Dr. Goebbels, the 'the Evil Genius' of Nazi
thought, Stalin's regime, or other experiences of this organized
process of persuasion. In these regimes, propaganda was a scientific
and rational method to delete the subjective truth, imposing the
objective truth which is the choice of the Party. The propagandist
was an individual who tried to influence other persons.
The function of propaganda, the Nazi
leader argued, was to bring the attention of the masses to certain
facts, processes and necessities `whose significance is thus for
the first time placed within their field of vision'. Accordingly,
propaganda had to be simple, concentrate on as few points as possible,
and be repeated frequently, with emphasis on such emotional elements
as love and hatred. Through the continuity and sustained uniformity
of its application, propaganda would, Hitler concluded, lead to
results that are `almost beyond our understanding'. (Welch, 1988)
Nothing should exist outside the State's
decision. In fact, only the State can say the truth, and only
the State has right or reason.
In this kind of society, propaganda is
everywhere. It is possible to see it at school, in the media,
in public manifestations, in sporting events, in the street, et
cetera. Propaganda's aim is to create uniform public speech and
standardized public comportment. In a public place, it is not
permitted to contradict the official doctrine, or according to
Orwell, the "official truth". If someone tries to show
or manifest dissent of power, the police arrest him. In this kind
of society the most important thing is the homologation of public
comportment. This does not mean homologation of mind. Nobody can
standardize the mind; only what people say they are thinking.
Indeed, the State cannot know what you are thinking or your mind
- only how you express it.
In a democratic country, on the other
hand, it is possible to express one's own mind. The State must
to listen to what the people say, because democracy is based on
people (Demos) power (Cratos). Furthermore, in democratic society
propaganda is repudiated by people because they feel and wish
that their choices should be made by themselves without any influences.
Therefore the people, in democratic society, like to think that
their decisions were born independently in their mind and not
by somebody else. This is a clear sign of freedom. Indeed in a
despotic society, the propaganda:
Attempt to effect the personalities and
to control the behavior of individual toward ends considered unscientific
or of doubtful value in a society in a particular time. (Doob,
So, in democratic society the people
are free to think and nobody attempts to affect their personalities,
unlike an authoritarian society. This is the great conquest of
free society. The situation, however, is not quite so simple.
Not all intellectuals' concord with this notion. Chomsky, for
example, believes that paradoxically, in a closed society, there
is more freedom of mind than in democratic society. Why? First
of all, because under oppression and control, the human mind is
more active, attempting to maintain individuality. Secondly, the
State does not care what you think, but only what you say or do.
Manifestation of freedom is forbidden. Expressing these feelings
or beliefs is not allowed, but it is permissible think, only because
it is difficult to stop thought.
In accordance with Chomsky's belief,
in democratic society the State must listen to the people's opinions,
and then try to homologate the mind. It is forbidden to use force
against the free mind, but is possible to try to unify it. The
new propaganda is completely different from the official, or old
Our system works much differently and
much more effectively. It's a privatized system of propaganda,
including the media, the journals of opinion and in general including
the broad participation of the articulate intelligentsia, the
educated part of the population. (Chomsky in Bersamian, 1992:
In democratic society propaganda is more
sophisticated and more elaborate. Primarily because it is invisible
(Ramonet 2000a). In fact, in contrast with old propaganda, the
new is not visible or easily identifiable. It does not need cudgels,
army or police on the street to try to stop the mind. Above all
it does not need a coordinator like Goebbels, because it is a
self sustaining system, without the need for a director.
The general picture is of a media machine
acting as a self-regulation system where propaganda is produced
voluntarily and in a decentralized way by media personnel who
censor themselves on the basis of internalized sense of political
correctness (Rai, 1995: 46).
This is an important point. It is difficult
in a democratic society to find a censorship like in regime state
(except for Italy where Berlusconi, who is the owner of the three
biggest private televisions and controls the public television,
had censured some critical journalists). It is now easier to find
a new form of censure: self-censure.
This propaganda service is provided without
government censorship or coercion, by self-censorship alone, with
the truth of the propaganda line internalized by the numerous
media participants. This internalization of belief makes it possible
for media personnel to be enthusiastic spokespersons in pushing
the party line, thereby giving it a naturalness that is lacking
in crude systems of government-enforced propaganda. (Herman 2003:
Censorship is the most evident form of
state control over the freedom of information. All dictatorships
control the mass media. This is one of the main instruments of
the propaganda system, where some things are banned and others
are emphasized. Censorship can take a variety of forms, and it
does not necessarily need direct involvement of the State. In
certain situations, intervene a new form of censorship called
"systems of self-censorship" which required journalist
and the press to have a severe code of conduct that include the
"command" not to damage national unity and patriotic
sense of state. This kind of voluntary censorship is much more
pervasive and insidious form of control. Usually nobody tries
to directly stop an article or report, but frequently in war time
some news is preemptive cut and other is censorship for several
reasons. More critical is Fisk's opinion, which says that journalists
are "free to report what we are told" (Fisk, The Independent,
4 February 1991).
Censorship in the market system
"Private censorship serves to suppress
ideas as thoroughly and as rigidly as the worst government censor."
(Barron 1973: 321)
As we have seen, the censorship does
not only come from governments or other political institutions.
In occidental democratic society, the censorship, also comes from
the market system and media corporations. Indeed it is the market's
system who gives us the "direction", which tells us
what we have to do and what we have to buy. This system choices
the new fashion, the new movies, the new way of live. The market
system, is like any regimes, organizations, or political party,
which believes itself custodian of unconditional truth. This truth
must be defended. It is for this that they believe that they have
not only a right but also the duty to exercise a censorship and
promote a propaganda to control opinion (Catlin, 1936: 127). Those
who believe that they are right, inevitably feel the need to censorship
any other ideas contrary to theirs.
It is a dangerous innocence to imagine
that only governments impose censorship, and that therefore a
free-market system, limiting the range of government activities,
liberates us from the fear of censorship. The position of many
in the media reflects the old liberal view that the only censorship
to be feared is that imposed by a government. Censorship imposed
by the media owners themselves is declared to be an exercise in
freedom of the press (Qualter, 1985: 149).
Qualter introduced another important
aspect concerning censorship: it is not only the state or government
that impose restriction and information control, but also the
free market system does it. First of all, the media corporations
are largely privately owned and more and more concentrated by
few proprietors, which come from the same social class. The consequence
is that: "The control of one social class ensures that they
will impose a censorship in the interest of that class" (Ibidem).
It is also important to underline that
excessive media concentration, inevitably has a negative effect
with the information pluralism. Usually the presence of competing
newspapers, magazines or television in a market, is taken as proof
of diversity. But do different daily newspapers or different covers
of magazines mean different opinions? We must examine more seriously
the structure of ownership, to understand if a different cover
coincides with a different opinion. McCombs from Department of
Journalism at University of Texas, conclude his research saying
that "Competition does not insure diversity (in AA.VV., 1988:
137). The problem now is more and more complicate, because of
the concentration of the media. William Safire on the New York
Times (February 16, 2004), asked himself, in a article which analyzes
the risk of media concentration, "If one huge corporation
controlled both the production and the dissemination of most of
our news and entertainment, couldn't it rule the world?"
In the USA they are now "Five Sisters", like the famous
seven brothers of petroleum, which control almost all the panorama
of the media, as news, views and entertainment.
This divided concentration is a dangerous
problem for democratic society. Indeed when only a few voices
are able to speak, and only a few points of view are given in
the media system, the democratic system is ruined.
Individuals and societies have a need
for diverse and pluralistic media provision. Concentration of
media ownership narrow the range of voices that predominate in
the media and consequently pose a threat to the interests of society.
(Doyle, 2002: 6)
It is not only a social class problem.
Furthermore media corporations are business societies which largely
rely on sponsorship. The largest source of media advertising comes
from multinational corporations and this influences the subject
matter, promoting a consumer society. According to Herman it is
possible say that media is decisively imbedded in the market system.
They are profit-seeking businesses, owned
by very wealthy people (or other companies); they are funded largely
by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want
their ads to appear in a supportive selling environment. The media
are also dependent on government and major business firms as information
sources, and both efficiency and political considerations, and
frequently overlapping interests, cause a certain degree of solidarity
to prevail among the government, major media, and other corporate
We have to remember that the mass media
are huge corporations whose main aims, are to maximize their profit,
typical of any capitalist enterprise. However this is not fair,
because we have the right to have a correct and variegate information,
and this fundamental right is violated by the oligopoly of the
mass media by these giant corporations.
Another problem with the media is that
it is not accessible to everyone. In reality only the government
and the principal corporations have access to the media because
only they the resources, to utilize the media. Indeed only they
- the two major institutions of power - have enough authority,
money and power to occupy the media efficiently. Gramsci, an Italian
Marxist theorist, argued that, unlike the military and police
who use force to preserve social control, ideology wins consent
for the public order without physical oppression. Hegemonic ideology
tries to legitimate the current society, with its institutions
and its model of life. The ideology which led society, and is
imposed on it, become hegemonic when it is absolutely accepted
and it is not imposed by force, but it exists by virtue of undisputed
consent (Gramsci 1948). Furthermore, quoting Gramsci, mass media
does not define a new reality but rather allow those in power
of society to represent themselves. Chomsky also underlines, how
the media reflect the consensus of powerful elites. Chomsky wrote
The propaganda model does not assert
that the media parrot the line of the current state managers in
the manner of a totalitarian regime; rather, that the media reflect
the consensus of powerful elites of the state-corporate . The
model argues, from its foundations, that the media will protect
the interests of the powerful, not that it will protect state
managers from their criticisms; the persistent failure to see
this point may reflect more general illusions about our democratic
system. (Chomsky, 1989: 149)
Understanding mass media's role
"The media are at the heart of our
capacity or incapacity to make sense of the world in which we
(Silverstone, 1999: preface)
Mass media play a crucial role in our
society. First of all, the media are an agency of social integration
and it has salient parallels with the role that church had in
the Middle Age (Curran, 2002: 77). In addition, they help us to
understand the world because they are involved in every aspect
of our everyday lives (Silverston, 1999), and supply not only
information but also 'conceptual frameworks within which information
and opinions are ordered, not just fact but a worldview' (Lichehtenberg,
In democratic societies, based on elected
representative candidates, mass media could be considered the
connective tissue of democracy, because it is the main way through
citizens and the elected, communicate and act upon each other,
informing and influencing (Gunther and Mughan 2000: 1). Moreover
the media invite public opinion to reflect on important events
and views. This concept, founded on the theory of Agenda-setting
(McCombs, Shaw 1977), presumes that mass media does not tell us
what to think, but what to think about. Mass media established
the agenda of important events and viewpoint, sometimes deleting
the critical or different points of view, or not giving them enough
importance. Indeed, Agenda-setting is paramount because it determines
the agenda for public discussion including and excluding items.
The primary issue, according to Oscar H. Gandy (1982):
We have to go beyond the agenda setting
to determine who sets the media agenda, how and for what purposes
it is set, and with what impact on the distribution of power and
values in society.  Knowledge and information are seen to have
economic and political value through their relation to power or
to control over the actions of others.  Because information
is at the heart to individual and collective decision making,
control of information implies control over decision making. (Gandy,
Entman argued, that if the media or anyone
is able to affect what people think about, they are therefore
able to affect their attitudes. This is because the public opinion
is made by interaction with media messages and what spectators
or readers decide to do with them (Entman, 1989: 77). The media,
order the priorities on the agenda discussion and in this kind,
can influence us. The main issue now is to understand what criteria
is used to decide the news. To understand which events become
news, which events are reported by media and which are cut, means
to understand which side of society is represented by media. In
fact not every event becomes news. Indeed before an event, or
like Herman and Chomsky prefer to say, the 'raw material of news',
becomes news, must pass through series of five filters, that constantly
'interact with and reinforce one other' , having a several effects
on media performance. The five filters which of the authors speak
(1) the size, concentrated ownership,
owner wealth, and profit orientation of dominant mass-media firms;
(2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;
(3) the reliance of the media on information provide by government,
business, and experts funded and approved by these primary sources
and agents of power; (4) flak as a means of disciplining the media;
and (5) anti-communism as a national religion and control mechanism.
(Herman and Chomsky, 1988: 2)
According to Herman and Chomsky's model
of propaganda, we can see that those five filters are the most
dominant elements in the news process production system. Only
when the raw material of news, is passed through them, can become
news. This news in the mainstream media represents the side of
society, which correspond to hegemonic ideology. "The values
which inform the selection of news items usually serve to reinforce
conventional opinions and established authority (Curran, Seaton,
Moreover this model of propaganda, does
not influence everybody directly. Sometimes it is enough for the
new propagandists to influence the decision makers, the opinion
leaders to create the illusion, in the public opinion and generally
in democratic societies, that belief and thought are developed
naturally. According to Carey (1997: chapter 6) it is possible
to find two different kinds of propaganda depending on the aims:
Grassroots Propaganda and Treetops Propaganda. The first has aim
to influence the most people possible. The second kind of propaganda
tries to influence the decision makers, the editors, journalists
et cetera, who without any significant coercion, will influence
the public opinion, which is more and more dependent from media
to understand our specialist society.
The power of the U.S. propaganda system
lies in its ability to mobilize an elite consensus, to give the
appearance of democratic consent, and to create enough confusion,
misunderstanding, and apathy in the general population to allow
elite programs to go forward (Herman, 1996).
It is clear, looking at the structure
of media ownership (Bagdikian, 1983) what is the main topic transmitted
by the media: marketing. A relationship seems to exist between
corporate power and ideology, where the media serve and reflect
the interests of dominant elites. So the media, the main media,
are playing a hegemonic task in democratic society to legitimate
this political and ideological status. It is also for this reason,
according to Herman and Chomsky (1988), that it can be said that
media have a role in engineering consent, urging the people to
love and to accept this life-style, as the only possible world.
Marketing has become so sophisticated
that it aims to sell not just a brand name or social sign, but
an identity. All based on the principle that having is being.
(Ramonet 2000b: 1)
The free thinkers.
"It is easier to dominate someone
if they are unaware of being dominated. Colonized and colonizers
both know that domination is not just based on physical supremacy.
Control of hearts and minds follows military conquest."
The new propaganda has its power in the
freedom (or apparent freedom) of press. It is for this reason
it is possible to call it new(s) propaganda. The new(s) propaganda
needs freedom of media, needs debate (only a small amount, and
under control). Why? Because until someone can say without restraint
what one is thinking, it is difficult to see this kind of propaganda
which wants to homologate the mind. The intellectuals or writers
who work against this system are, regardless, inside the system.
Because paradoxically those who think that it is difficult to
talk and write liberally are indeed talking or writing about this,
and so are free to say everything. It is here a more interesting
aspect of this propaganda appears. The reflections of an intellectual
or writer are delivered to a small segment of the population,
and usually someone who already knows these things beforehand.
It rarely arrives to the general public.
Herman and Chomsky demonstrated in democratic
system, it is possible to find five filters for information (Herman,
Chomsky, 1988: 1-35). Only if the event or thing goes trough one
of those filters could it arrive to public opinion.
A propaganda model suggests that the
"societal purpose" of the media is to inculcate and
defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged
groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media
serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics,
distribution of concerns, framing of issue, filtering of information,
emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of
acceptable premises (Herman, Chomsky, 1988: 298).
A democratic society cares about public
opinion not the former, because the democratic system listens
to what the majority says. So those who talk about this new(s)
face of propaganda are fewer and fewer, and give the pretext to
say the propaganda does not exist. At the same time if nobody
says this, even fewer and fewer people know that system exists,
and those people waive their right to speak (nobody says it is
forbidden to talk or write). Above all the intellectuals abandon
their duty: to try to make the world more intelligible for everybody.
Another problem is those who know this are creating a closed circuit
that essentially isolates them from the rest of the world.
"An independent mind must seek to
separate itself from official doctrine, and from the criticism
advanced by its alleged opponents; not just from the assertion
propaganda system, but from its tacit presuppositions as well,
expressed by critic and defender."
(Chomsky, 1982: 81)
In summary, the old propaganda was used
in totalitarian societies, without freedom of expressions, without
freedom of speaking guaranteed by constitution. The new propaganda,
in contrast, needs freedom from the media, needs freedom from
the press. We have seen that if this freedom is also guaranteed
by law, it is sometimes overwhelmed by the market system. Using
one analogy, we can say that the system, and no one person, is
the new dictator, which impose censorship, which control the information.
There is a structural contradiction between
freedom of communication and unlimited freedom of the market,
and that the market liberal ideology of freedom of individual
choice in the marketplace of opinion is in fact a justification
of the privileging of corporate speech and of giving more choice
to investors than to citizens. It is an apology for the power
of king-sized business to organize and determine and therefore
to censor individuals' choice concerning what they listen to or
read and watch. (Kean, 1991: 89)
It is not enough to have a constitution
which guarantees the right to the freedom press. This is a great
conquest in our society, but it does not mean that everyone has
equal opportunities to express themselves. This formal right does
not mean democracy, where everyone has the same rights or duties.
If we want to keep a real democracy we must protect the other
rights that lie behind the right to the freedom of the press.
These rights are the freedom of access to the press, that is not
equal for everybody; the freedom of competition on the news market
and above all the freedom from monopoly power. The latter it is
not only not guaranteed, but is seriously damaged and injured
by the new law, that gives to the big corporations the possibility
and the right to concentrate the different voices of our society.
Yet, it could be argued that the excessive freedom of market is
against the real freedom of expression and the freedom to represent
the different voices and points of view in a democratic society.
Freedom without social responsibility
is called egoism and especially in a capitalist society, this
leads to a defense of self-interest and the advancement of the
interest of those who pay most. (van Dijk, 1988: 47)
The media concentration, the excessive
freedom of market and the faith that people put in this, is the
new enemy for a democratic society generating a barrier to entry,
monopoly and restrictions upon choice. Just reflect on the past
to understand how the concentration of media is deleting thousands
of independent opinions. Yes, of course today the press is still
legally free; but most of the smaller papers have disappeared
and others find it increasingly difficult to reach the market
and the public. In the totalitarian dictatorship there is political
censorship where the media of mass communication is completely
controlled by the State. Now it is not the party or the "big
brother" that controls almost all the media, but it is the
economy and therefore the power elite censorship.
Finally, as Huxley claims, it is possible
to hold that the aim of a new dictatorship, and consequently the
aim of a new propaganda, is to convince people to love their "slavery",
confusing it with freedom (Huxley, 1958). In this context it is
difficult to open the eyes of people, because they have learned
to love this way of life.
Bagdikian, B., (1983), Media Monopoly,
Boston MA, Beacon Press.
Bersamian, D., (1992), Stenographers
to power. Media and propaganda, Common Courage press, Monroe (USA)
Carey, A., (1997) Taking the Risk out
of Democracy, The University of Illinois Press, Chicago.
Chomsky, N., (1982), Towards a New Cold
War: Essay on the Current Crisis and How We Got There, London,
Chomsky, N., (1989), Necessary Illusion:
Though Control in Democratic Societies, Toronto: CBS Enterprises.
Chomsky, N., (1997), Media Control: The
spectacular achievements of Propaganda, Open Media Pamphlet Series,
New York, Seven Stories Press.
Curran, J., (2002), Media and Power,
Routledge, London, New York.
Doob, L. W., (1948), Public Opinion &
Doyle, G., (2002), Media Ownership, Sage
Ellul, J., (1965), Propaganda: The Formation
of Men's Attidudes, Knop, New York.
Entman, R. m., (1989), Democracy without
citizens. Media and the Decay of American Politics, Oxford University
Fishman, M., (1980), Manufacturing the
News, University of Texas, Austin,
Fisk, R., Free to report What we're told,
in "The Indipendent", 4 February 1991.
Herman, E., (1996), The propaganda model
revisited, in "Monthly Review".
Herman, E. S. (2003). Propaganda System
Number One. Against All Reason, in "Propaganda, Politics,
Power" Volume 1: 15-28.
Herman E. S., Chomsky, N., (1988), Manufacturing
Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York, Pantheon.
Huxley, A., (1958) Brave New World Revisited,
Harper, New York.
Jackall, R.(ed) (1995) Propaganda, Mcmillan
Kean, J., (1991), The Media and Democracy,
Polity Press, Cambridge.
Linchtenberg, J., (edit by) (1990), Democracy
and the Mass Media, Cambridge University Press.
Qualter, T. H., (1985), Opinion Control
in the Democracies, Mac Millan Press Ltd, London.
Rai, M., (1995), Chomsky's Politics,
New York, Verso.
Ragnedda, M., (2002), Warshow. La guerra
mediatica, Nephila edizioni, Firenze.
Ramonet, I., (2000a) Propagandes silencieuses.
Masses, télévision, cinéma, édition
Ramonet, I., (2000b), The control of
pleasure, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, May, 2000.
Taylor, P.M., (1990), Munitions of the
mind. War propaganda from the ancient world to the nuclear age,
Patrick Stephens Limited, Glasgow.
Taylor, P. M., (1992) War and the Media:
Propaganda and Persuasion in the Gulf War, Manchester University
Taylor, P. M., (1995), Munitions of the
Mind. A History of Propaganda from ancient world to the present
day, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
Welch. D. (August 1999), Power of Persuasion.
Propaganda, History Today, Web Sources: http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1373/8_49/55481498/print.jhtml
Index of Website