jueves, 17 de mayo de 2012

Propaganda or Public Diplomacy?

How does Black's extensive exploration of propaganda help us understand its distinction - if any - from public diplomacy?

Looking at the six key characteristics of propaganda techniques that Black outlines, the very first one listed (“heavy or undue reliance on authority figures and spokespersons, rather than empirical validation, to establish its truths, conclusions, or impressions”) is in some ways quite similar to Public Diplomacy in a practical sense.  In many applications, we tend to be very reliant on a singular representation to mass influence opinion.  For instance, through a program like IVLP (the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program), often one person or one group of people will help to inform their host community’s views about their visitor’s nation.  Similarly, images in the media, such as the fame of a certain pop music star, can also influence the international arena’s view of that personality’s nation, unfairly or not, and whether or not the star’s countrymen like or agree with this representation of themselves.  
However, further down the list of propaganda techniques, true differences between propaganda and public diplomacy are apparent.  Engagement with a foreign public through Public Diplomacy can easily avoid propaganda’s characteristic “reduction of situations into simplistic and readily identifiable cause and effect relations, ignoring multiple causality of events,” and most certainly is in opposition to placing “a greater emphasis on conflict than on cooperation among people, institutions, and situations.”  One of the core goals of PD could be seen as the cooperation among institutions through international communication, and with that, an increase in cross-cultural understanding.
Black also discusses the semantics of propaganda and concepts for what he calls “sophisticated (sane) language behavior.” Included in this is an awareness that people will view the world differently, as well as the awareness that not every idea must be true or false nor every behavior right or wrong.   These behaviors are keys to Public Diplomacy as well, which aims to promote foreign policy through engagement of foreign publics.
Jay Black makes several interesting points in his discussion about the history of the concept of propaganda that point to another key difference between it and public diplomacy on a semantic level. Spearheaded in the 1600’s Roman Catholic Church, the aim of propaganda was to “spread ideas that would not occur naturally, but only via a cultivated or artificial generation.”  By the 1800’s, the term shifted and became value-laden, and ethically immoral.  This semantic value is distinct from the value associated with the concept of Public Diplomacy, which, overall, lacks a strong negative public connotation.   From my perspective, even the term “diplomacy” itself brings to mind an image of calm, fair negotiation-but perhaps as we continue with our readings and course materials I will change this opinion!
One last interesting idea Black presents (from Ellul, 1965) that is especially thought provoking is the view that people need media to provide “predigested views because they can’t experience all of life firsthand.”  Do people need to be propagandized?  

4 comentarios:

  1. Jess, thanks for posting! I was also going to respond to this question, so I think I'll just post my thoughts here. In my mind, there are three things that stand out to me as critical differences between public diplomacy and propaganda: the treatment of the target audience, who is leading it, and the existence (or lack of) a feedback mechanism.

    1. In propaganda, the audience is often confronted with reductionist images that present a situation in black and white. Conflicts have quickly defined good and bad guys and leave very little room for humanizing the other side, whereas public diplomacy efforts are often much more complex. The audience for public diplomacy programs might be addressed in a way that implies some background knowledge of the subject, or at least a capacity to understand the many layers of an issue. It is often in the best interest of those leading public diplomacy initiatives to be more subtle and sensitive to the other involved stakeholders. There is an element of deception in propaganda that is not nearly as pervasive or considered to be the goal of public diplomacy.

    2. Nicholas Cull would argue that governments are the wrong people to be involved in cultural diplomacy, but that individuals are much more effective. The person to person relationship is stronger than a large, bureaucratic organization trying to reach out to the public of a foreign nation. This is a distinct difference from propaganda, which relies heavily on authority figures.

    3. It seems that one of the most important aspects of public diplomacy is that there is a mechanism for feedback. A dialogue is created to exchange ideas to foster a mutual understanding between cultures in public diplomacy, when propaganda focuses on pushing information out and ignoring or overpowering all other perspectives. Alternatively, by utilizing Cull's first element, listening, public diplomacy makes it possible for two otherwise differing groups to become allies through cross-cultural communication (as you mentioned in your blog post) which does not seem to be the case in propaganda.

    Jess, in regards to your "do people need to be propagandized?" question, I think that sometimes, these reductionist views can be helpful in explaining a situation, but the problem arises when the viewer is not aware of the material as propaganda. If it is understood that the actual situation is far more complex and this is only a quick and unsophisticated Reader's Digest version, that might be useful, but I fear the kind of information consumer who relies on this as their only form of news.

  2. Very interesting! I still have some problems trying to figure out why propaganda can have a bad name...maybe because in Spanish, my mother tongue,we are used to utilize propaganda as synonym of publicity or commercial advertisement and we have not adopted the hideous connotation that came after the II WW. But I like your approach and maybe the point to study is the interest in "listening" that is embedded in PD, as opposed to propaganda whose main interest is to say and to convince.

  3. Black lays out some terms to define an ethical practice of PD. But he also notes a lengthy history of research on the necessity of propaganda in its less onerous forms - that ubiquitous persuasive discourse is necessary for a society to function. I think the article also forces us to think about the inherent vulnerability of publics to communication, and asks us to consider our understandings of media effects. When designing a PD campaign, we should consider the mechanisms by which it should "work" - does exposure to images induce behavior, can we effectively "frame" a story in our favor, are audiences inherently "dupes"?

  4. Responding to Lee's response....
    Part of the problem here is that different kinds of PD lend themselves to different shades of "propaganda." It's easier to say that exchanges facilitate cross-cultural relations; but hard to say that international broadcasting does not in someway provide a select portrait of reality. Another challenge, I think, is to seperate the ideal types of PD (Cull's typology) from the way actual programs are functionally designed. For example - can you design an international broadcasting or nation-branding campaign in the form of "listening"?