The truth- that is what keeps Propaganda at bay from Public Relations. Doing what a practitioner does best – spinning, if based on credible facts is simply PR. But when the facts get diluted in the hype of amassing the largest number of impressions either online or off it, then its Propaganda.
However, that brings us to the question of what is a truthful fact? A PR practitioner is the representative of clients and does not have much say about the factual information related to the core processes of the company. This raises quite a few ethical issues as the codes of ethics emphasises on practitioners to investigate the facts made by the clients. Though, in reality this is not always a possibility. The practitioner has to make a tough choice based on a professional commitment and faith on the clients ability to share facts. The PR practitioner acts like a good citizen of the corporate world and makes sure that the illusion of their client holds in the eye of the public. Sometimes it would mean defending the client on issues like environment and safety standards for employees.
Isn’t that also the purpose of Propaganda? Eventually, both PR and Propaganda are selling an idea through a set of objectives and strategies. Propaganda is defined by E. Bernays’s as “the consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.” We see a similar theme when we look at how he defines Public relations: “attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment, to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement, or institution.”
Where propaganda scores is on magnifying made-up facts and gets the negative connotations from the wartime propaganda and Nazi Germany. Though its roots go back as far as 1622 when Pope Gregory XV formed The Sacra Congregatio Christiano Nomini Propaganda (the Congregation for Propagating the Faith).
Though propaganda suffers from a negative reputation, the basic difference between the two is the way they are utilised to secure strategic objectives. So do Propaganda and PR coexist? Well, considering the rise of social media and omnipresent journalists who are on lookout for slightest misleading facts. So, if a practitioner deliberately uses untrue facts or a version of facts, then journalism sleuths are bound to catch such a action. Even if they don’t then customers won’t put up with such a campaign for long and its ramifications would resound in the form of a backlash for the company.
Are Propaganda and PR synonymous? The definition and interpretation varies with the context in which it is being used. PR industry has always tried to embrace code of ethics and hold itself by the highest standards. Propaganda meanwhile has been associated with campaigns which violate these principles.
Watch a report by AlJazeera about U.S. media being curbed from reporting Iraq war