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?