The word “propaganda” comes from the Latin word ‘propagare’ meaning to spread or propagate. Propaganda started off as an honourable word, with its first coming up into common usage across Europe in the year 1622 when Pope Gregory XV created the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith in Rome.
The word back then was associated with the missionary activities of the Catholic churches, where they propagated the faith and regulated church affairs in foreign lands. Over time, the word started garnering negative usage, often in a selfish sense with some ulterior motive present.
In its current form, ‘Propaganda’ means ideals or statements that are often false or exaggerated, and are spread to support a cause or a political party.
Propaganda has seen a fair share of usage throughout history, be it the French Revolution, the American independence or the World Wars. In today’s era, it is widespread across the globe. It can be the ideologies of the terrorist groups or those of the political parties in India; it can be the control-freak CCP that shows only good things about China to the world through its media or the Hollywood movies that show America as the dreamland to live in. Propaganda comes in all shapes and sizes, and it is us, the public, which falls into the trap of propaganda.
Amid all this, the foremost question is: how does propaganda spread and how does the general public fall for it? Long answer short – Media.
By media, I do not mean the news houses. Media here refers to ‘medium’; any medium through which people can be reached out to. It can be the internet, TV, magazines, books, emails, public speeches and rallies, etc. These are some of the means through which people are influenced into following a certain cause or support a certain government or party.
We, humans, are emotional beings. We have a psyche that can be manipulated and tampered with. Propagandists tap into the emotions of people by using images, slogans, biased & selective information or straight-up lies to sway people’s opinions in their favor.
Let’s consider the Indian leftists for instance.
They are very clear about their narrative and work together on spreading it in a highly coordinated manner, succeeding in changing the opinions of several Indians regarding their own country and its functioning. Foreign media has been running its chain of propaganda through news and social media to show India as a dystopian state that needs a political change, even before the pandemic.
This is another example of a well-funded and well-coordinated propaganda drive aimed at altering the political scenes in the country to suit their narrative. Even the ruling party runs its own set of propaganda through several news channels, using them for whitewashing its image, collectively and colloquially referred to as ‘Godi Media’.
Propaganda is all-pervasive. How do we beat something that has crept so deep into our systems? It is important to know that gullible minds are the most vulnerable ones. People who are not well-informed, when fed with any information that sounds decorous, tend to believe it, without fact-checking it any further. This is the first problem that needs addressing.
As citizens, we should be well-informed about the affairs of the country and the world. Before believing any information or news, we should question its source and credibility. We should not adulate social media figures and take their word for everything. We need to develop a thinking brain of our own that can help us form our own opinion and stance. And that can go a long way in determining how we perceive a problem and how we react to it. We need to have a neutral outlook, where we can view things as they are instead of how they want us to view them.
In our battle against propaganda, the elephant in the room is the lack of neutral news channels. Almost all the media houses have a master to serve, and those who don’t have any are struggling to sustain themselves due to a lack of funds. If we want unbiased news, we ought to financially support the media houses which do not play by the books of any political party but deliver news to us in their raw form.
Propaganda is an archaic demon and it will take years to send it back into its hole. All we can do in our era is initiate baby steps to eliminate it because if we don’t, no one will.
Student at Xavier Law School, Bhubaneswar.
I like to stay up-to-date with all the happenings in and around the world, with a special interest in Geo-politics and law.