Propaganda and public relations – a historical association or still significant today? You should answer this question with reference to social psychology and semantics of propaganda.
Public relations are the process which communicates a value to a customer and is what upholds relationships with customers. It originally came about to exaggerate press stories, even if they strayed from the truth, so that circuses could be promoted and so “when its effectiveness for the ring was recognised, it was taken up as communications to defend US business interests.” (Moloney, 2006). It could definitely be considered as still significant today as it is used to provide the public with information about organizations, however this essay will be looking at how it could be significant today or just a historical association. This is also the case with propaganda, which is a tool that was primarily used within the first world war in order to encourage men to join. Therefore, it has a huge historical association. However, it could also be seen as still significant today but just a lot more hidden within capitalist ideas. This is in order to make sure the public aren't directly seeing and understanding the power of propaganda and its effect on their consumerism opinions.
The idea that propaganda is only a historical association now could be derived from its Greek origins – “The Sacra Congregation de Propaganda Fide, a committee of Roman Catholic cardinals responsible for overseas missions, was founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.” (Morris & Goldsworthy, 2008). Also, it was widely known for its use in the First and Second World war, which gave it a bad name. It was used in the First World war in order to persuade men to sign up for war, making them believe it was for the good of the public and that it would benefit them. It was exaggerated to be an amazing experience and life changing when in reality it was a horrific experience that many lost their lives from. “war and the development of communications technology contributed greatly to the practice o propaganda.” (L'Etang, 2009) It was a great tool for the government as it enabled them to take social control of the public's opinions and alter what they were thinking. As a result of this “government information services and propaganda operations grew tremendously during the First and Second World Wars.” (Davis, 2002). Ivy Lee could be considered as a founder of public relations as he believed that human emotions and the things in life that move people are more significant for persuasion and that “Ewen (1996) reports Lee saying in 1921 that ‘publicity is essentially a matter of mass psychology'” (Moloney, 2006). This is instead of using facts and statistics to change their opinions which was how any sort of persuasion, public relations or propaganda worked before the war. However, even if Lee developed propaganda to become a highly important tool during the war, it gained a negative reputation due to his involvement with Nazi groups. Propaganda plays a major part in social psychology as it provides fear of mass manipulation of the public, this could be because Ivy Lee was working for German relations during the events of the holocaust, therefore tainting propaganda.
The historical association within public relations is that it “first came into identifiable existence as untruthful exaggeration in press stories to promote circuses.” (Moloney, 2006) and this was introduced by P.T Barnum. Businesses saw the positive effects taking place and so decided to take his ideas and use them for their own interests and protection. Public relations were not originally known as that title, more like publicity offices as agencies wanted to steer away from advertising and marketing. Public relations aims are to maintain a relationship with the public and keep them informed however “PR practitioners acted to limit relevant institutional reform of finance in promoting the interest of corporations and fund managers rather than citizens.” (Tench & Yeomans, 2013). This suggests that PR also can stray from the truth in order to benefit business and elites, rather than the public mass. Public relations also link in with propaganda as “Propaganda has much in common with public information campaigns by governments, which are intended to encourage or discourage certain forms of behaviour.” (Encyclopedia, 2014)Also, Bernays, considered a founder of PR along with Ivy Lee, believed a PR officer (or counsellor) must understand stereotypes like capitalist, policemen, lawyers etc. He took this from Lippmans concept that stereotypes were the foundations for influencing public opinion. Lippman also said that the ‘pseudo environment' and ‘pseudo facts' concepts can be actively used to alter public opinions. Bernay's collected these together as one concept of propaganda and believed that public relations are a sub-set of propagandas. He suggests this gives a larger and more positive societal process of manipulation for the public. There are also suggestions that PR and propaganda are separate concepts as public relations are usually focused on a smaller project and can be involved in a range of interests, operating especially in western society whereas “propaganda is tied closely to intention and source of one party and may include a widespread vision that encompasses a culture.” (L'Etang & Pieczka, 2006). It can be difficult to distinguish between individual elements of propaganda and PR especially when the information is given by governments. For example, “propaganda would be aimed at keeping the government in power but PR would be aimed at getting its services understood and used properly.” (Jefkins, 1998)
Propaganda could definitely be considered as still significant now as it is used in the majority of businesses and advertising. “professional communicators analyse the use of propaganda in historical and contemporary situations in order to better understand for their own purposes how to wield influence in today's world.” (Johnson-Cartee & A. Copeland, 2004) It is subtler now due it's taint as this “still has some resonance today along with notions of “brainwashing” (especially) utilised with POW's in Vietnam” (L'Etang & Pieczka, 2006). Today, it is used by businesses as they have realised it is “the one means of mass mobilisation which is cheaper than violence, bribery or other possible control techniques.” (Moloney, 2006). It's a modern instrument which can allow agencies to influence people's opinions as they believe it is for the public good. The nudge theory is used within propaganda which gives the public information about what other people are doing in their lives as “it suggests that people are more easily influenced by statements about what other people are doing than by direct messages about changing their behaviour.” (Tench & Yeomans, 2013). This theory was introduced in 2008 by Thaler. Public relations are also definitely still significant today as many businesses have their own PR officers and agencies. Business uses PR to give particular information to the public however they have control over what the public see so “PR has manipulated public opinion in favour of ideas, values and policies that economic and political elites (some elected) have favoured.” (Moloney, 2006). Public relations are openly used by many businesses as the public do not see it as negatively and so the big political parties spend more on promoting their policies and give their PR officers more control to communicate to the public. Businesses and political parties differed in their uses of persuasion however, as businesses used Grunig's two-way asymmetrical model using different research through the public's uses and gratifications. Whereas, political parties tend to use the two-way symmetrical model as they negotiate with the public through the use of votes and press conferences. In the 1990's PR was becoming more involved with sectors of British civil society and it grew so that “31 percent of all organisations had press/publicity officers, 43 percent used external PR agencies and 56 percent monitored the media.” (Davis, 2002).
A democracy is a system that allows the public to have a say in the decisions of their country and so that political parties in charge can listen to the public. PR is involved with the democracy as its role is to communicate to the public what decisions need to be made and to report the public's thoughts back to political bosses. However, “PR have greatly neglected consideration of democracy.” (Tench & Yeomans, 2013) as there are decisions being made without addressing the public and not all information is truthful in order to manipulate what the public are thinking. This suggests that propaganda and PR could come under the same sector as “critics of public relations say that much of PR is propaganda; its practitioners insist public relations is only practised for the public good.” (Tench & Yeomans, 2013) even though it's shown that political parties are not sticking to the democracy system and are using PR for their own interests so they can exaggerate their policies, misleading the public through the media.
This also shows that both PR and propaganda are still relevant in today's society but business and political parties attempt to make it hidden due to the negativity around it. They have used it so that “propaganda is part of our everyday lives, not just something from history.” (Tench & Yeomans, 2013).
There are many critics of propaganda and PR and one main critic is Herbermas (1962). He argues social welfare and business have destroyed the public sphere as “these elites present pre-determined opinion to the public when once it was the public who formed opinion.” (Moloney, 2006). He says PR is just a use of publicity for businesses to advance their own interests of business and do not benefit the public. He believes Bernays contributed to stressing the public interests and supressing business ones as a form of social engineering, manipulating the public into giving consent for capitalist interests. Stauber and Rampton (1995) also agree saying PR campaigns do not make audiences aware of the actual situation and that they deliberately use a targeted and passive audience to easily manipulate. They say the positive uses of PR do not lessen the manipulation of audiences. Herman and Chomsky (1988) created a propaganda model describing the behaviour of US mass media. The case studies they used revealed filters were used to result in just the ‘“cleansed residue fit to print” in the media'. (Moloney, 2006). Webster (1995) supports this by claiming that PR degrades the public sphere, due to sources of information being disguised from the public.
On the other hand, some theorists have created arguments for PR like Olasky (1987) who argues that corporate PR is ‘“designed to minimise competition through creation of a government business partnership supposedly in the public interest.” He calls this corporate collaborationism.' (Moloney, 2006). Raucher (1968) illustrates early PR by referring to a man named Ernest H.Heinrich who worked for George Westinghouse in the press office and the success they had. His boss felt he was losing sales in a promotion battle, so told Heinrich to release company achievements “because the truth hurts nobody…but misleading, garbled statements invariably do, and I want you to prevent misinterpretation whenever you can.” Marston (1963) supports this by claiming that governments have to try to keep citizens with what they want to hear through propaganda. Tedlow (1979) says persuasion is the “chief method of social control.” (Moloney, 2006) instead of using violence. He tracked the use of PR between 1900 and 1950 in order to legitimise it. Carey (1995) observes the careers of Bernays and Lee, associating PR with corporate propaganda. He believes it takes the risk out of democracy and big businesses. However, Carey also critics PR and says in the depression of 1930's, business used violence against workers, making a negative concept of democratic propaganda.
In conclusion, PR and propaganda are still significant today as they are used throughout political parties and businesses to communicate with the public. Also, many are still criticising them today, showing they are still relevant. However, critics also argue about their use in the past, showing they have a historical association due to the negative impact they had in the Second World War.
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