About two weeks ago we had a Media Research seminar with guest lecturer Dr. Emma Briant on Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change. It was a very interesting lecture with the primary focus on how Governments of the UK and USA have attempted to conform their propaganda strategies for counter-terrorism in a changing media and conflict environment particularly post the 9/11 attacks.
In the 17th century when the term Propaganda was first originated, it was considered mutual and primarily used to propagate faith (Briant 2016). Today, however, the word propaganda springs certain images to our mind – images of Big Brother, the Cold War etc. We tend to associate our understanding of the term propaganda with the actions of the Nazi’s during World War 2 and the Cold War. But is the term consistent with our understanding of the current world?
Propaganda does not necessarily mean to lie. According to Dr. Briant (2016), “propaganda is the use of communication to persuade, to shape ideas and emotions in our behaviours in a way desired by the propagandists”. Feminists, environmentalists and anti-war protestants have used it to great effect. Propaganda, within its definition can be divided into three different forms: black, white and grey. White propaganda is usually where the source of communication is declared openly with the information supposedly being accurate. Black propaganda, on the other hand is referred to lies, deception and might involve the source of communication being attributed incorrectly i.e. lying about where it’s coming from. Grey propaganda falls somewhere between black and white.
Dr. Briant went on to explain how democracy in propaganda traditionally in doctrine or law has divided it based upon the distinctions of black, white and grey roughly, according to the means of producing propaganda. So basically the extent of propaganda is modified using different audiences, the sensitivity of the operation and the extent of the persuasion used. Dr. Briants personal research was based on the United States of America. She explained how they have particular laws in place which distinguish propaganda for home audience as opposed to other foreign audiences. Even with regards to foreign audiences propaganda messages are amended. For example, a message to Indian Muslims would be different compared to Malaysian Muslims. Similarly a message sent to 1.5 billion Muslims of the world differs from the message shown to Americans in their own country, in order to rile up a conflict.
A good example of this was then-President George Bush’s Mission Accomplished Speech in 2003, his historic speech from the flight deck of USS Lincoln where he declared an end to major combat in Iraq. The banner on the aircraft that read ‘Mission Accomplished’, his assertion and the speech became quite controversial (US News 2003). The impact was that it was seen by people in Arab-Muslim countries around the world.
With regards to the UK context, Dr. Briant gave an example from her research where a source stated that the UK should use any technology it can to avoid the horror of conflict as far as possible. This argument, however, hinges on the weighing of means that propaganda exists to justify and build support for war (Briant 2016). Although, arguably it may of course be used to prevent tensions and contradictions growing into actual conflict.
To conclude, Dr. Briant explained how it’s the simple human predictability that brings us back to consider the means employed, the form of propaganda and how we manage it – ensuring propaganda is limited and proportional is important in countering ISIS, or other similar organisations for example.
- Briant, E. (2016) Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change [lecture] Media Research Seminar, 20 January 2016. Coventry: Coventry University
- Cline, S. (2003) The Other Symbol of George W. Bush’s Legacy [online] available from <http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/press-past/2013/05/01/the-other-symbol-of-george-w-bushs-legacy > [5 February 2016]
- CNN International (2003) Bush Makes Historic Speech Aboard Warship [online] available from <http://edition.cnn.com/2003/US/05/01/bush.transcript/ > [5 February 2016]