Essay on Propaganda – Techniques and Limitations of Propaganda

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iii. “Propaganda is the attempt to persuade people to a point of view upon issue…”—Horton and Hunt.

Propaganda is very often through of as an attempt to win people over to an unpopular cause or to influence them to follow a generally disapproved course of action. But actually, the purpose of propaganda can be quit varied. It can be generally understood as a means of influencing others, often towards a desirable end.

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Every public enterprise, on a governmental department has its own department which is presently called “publicity” department, “advertising department” or “public relations” department, instead of propaganda. Propaganda has become a science as well as an art.

Individuals even specialise in it as a profession and represent the organisations or persons employing them. Propaganda is also used for educational and a public welfare purposes, various means of mass media are applied for propaganda purposes.

The Techniques of Propaganda:

Propagandists can use several methods to persuade people to accept their views. These tech­niques have one element in common. They make an appeal to the values and attitudes of the people. Alfred M. Lee and Elizabeth B. Lee in their “The Fine Art of Propaganda” — classified the techniques of propaganda into seven main categories. They are as follows:

1. “Name-Calling” is a method used in negative propaganda. Attempts are made here to label the opponent as “communist”, “fascist”, “anti-secular”, “reactionary” “fifth columnist”, and so on. This is the way of discrediting the opponent.

2. “Glittering Generalities” refers to the technique of using universally cherished sentiments such as “social justice”,’ freedom of expression”, “fundamental rights”, “human rights”, “patrio­tism”, “secularism”, and the like. Manipulation of these sentiments is likely to evoke favourable response.

3. “Transfer” is a method of winning approval for something by associating it with some­thing else that is known to be viewed favourably. Example. Associating an idea with a revered person like Gandhi or an image or symbol like the Ayodhya Ram temple, or the Indian National Flag.

4. “Testimonial” is a technique of using famous or respected people to make public state­ments favouring or opposing something. It is a common practice for advertisers to use sports heroes, film stars, freedom fighters to recommend their products on television and in magazines.

5. “Plain Folks” is the technique of identifying the propgandist’s ideas or product with “ordi­nary” people. Political and public leaders, for example, pose themselves to be very simple, gener­ous, merciful, sympathetic, and so on. They often shake hands with very poor people, kiss little babies, visit the huts of the lowest caste people and pose themselves as very helpful and accommo­dative.

6. “Card Stacking” is an argument in which the facts (or false-hoods) are arranged in such a manner that the only one conclusion seems to be logically possible. In this technique, the propagan­dist goes on mentioning the good points or virtues of one person, or ideology, or policy or any such thing in which he is interested. He carefully omits all its defects and exaggerates that it is better than

7. “Band Wagon” is a method to build support for a particular view point, idea, policy, or product by creating the impression that “everyone is doing it”. Those who come under this kind of propganda are made to feel that they should also go with the “same trend” or else they will be “kept out”. This is like the joining the “camp of the winners” or of those who are likely to get a victory.

The phenomenon of propganda is actually a wondrous one. Opinions are not formed in vacuum. They are made in the context of existing cultural values and personal preconceptions. Public opinion is often formed in a very informal manner and cannot be easily studied. People do not necessarily get their opinions directly from media sources.

Opinions are often formed, or developed through the influence of one’s own primary group members, friends, workmates, neighbours and so on. The public is also influenced by the prominent members of the community who act as “opinion leaders”.

These individuals are normally status people and have their own range of influence. Contagion may also play its role in the formation of public opinion through what is known as the “band wagon” effect. The modern means of mass communication—such as radio, television, newspapers, films etc., have been playing a vital role in the formation and spread of public opinion.

Limitations of Propaganda:

The powers of the propaganda are not unlimited. Propaganda, however sophisticated it may be, has its own limitations. Some of the limits of propaganda are mentioned below.

1. Competing propagandas seem to be a great limiting factor. The mere existence of compet­ing propagandas, particularly in a democratic set up, restrains the influence of the propagandists.

2. The credibility of the propagandists in the eyes of its receivers is of great importance. It is indeed a limiting factor. If the propagandist has a vested interest, the credibility of his propaganda naturally gets reduced when the receivers discern it.

3. The sophistication of the receivers limits the effects of propaganda. It can be generalised, that more educated and informed people are less affected by propaganda than the uneducated and poorly informed people.

4. The beliefs and values of the recipients also place some limits on the effects of propa­ganda. People normally accept any kind of propaganda if it fits into their beliefs and values or attitudes and reject even uncritically if that propaganda conflicts with their beliefs.

5. Cultural drafts and trends will have their influence on propaganda. A cultural drift cannot easily be stopped by propaganda. However, it may speed up or weaken the cultural drift. It is doubt­ful whether the propaganda is capable of initiating or halting a cultural trend, destroy a well-established value or, instill a view for which the society is not looking for at the moment.


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