Propaganda: A Political Public Relations Card

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By Enoch Tonui (enochtonui@gmail.com)
The Kenyan general election is slightly over a year away and I won’t sound irrational if I say that the campaigns have started in earnest. What is interesting to note are the subtle persuasive techniques the political elite employ to gather masses on their side. Indeed media being pervasive is the tool of choice used to disseminate skillfully crafted messages commonly known as propaganda. Public relations (PR) exercises play a big role rolling out propaganda in order to build or repair damaged reputations. Knowingly or unknowingly, media play right into these politicians’ schemes by availing time and space to their utterances, actions and spectacles. Public relations key avenue for propaganda propagation is the media.
Propaganda is information that in most instances is manipulative and whose intentions are to achieve the goals of the propagandist who bank on the fact that its consumers will not critically evaluate it. The propagandists are the politicians who want their images enhanced or corporate organizations that want to build mutually beneficial relationships with their publics. The purveyors of propaganda are big businesses called public relations agencies.
In order to attract media attention, PR agencies use press releases, press conferences, events, advertisements, infomercials, and stage managed gimmicks or public spectacles. Whether the media are aware that they that they are being used as instruments of propaganda is an interesting question.
Techniques used to propagate propaganda abound but one that is insulting to the intelligence of the masses is the plain folk technique. This is actually the building of a spectacle in which the subject who could be a politician is portrayed as being on the same page with people at the grassroots (mainly the proletariat) and that they have something in common. This is, however, not always the case.
Media as PR vehicles will publish or broadcast spectacles such as those of politician eating with the common folk at food kiosks or shaking hands with children in public place. These spectacles are non-verbal messages and as I have said, propaganda is all about manipulative messages.
Surprisingly, many Kenyans take the media messages they are bombarded with at their face value oblivious of their intent. In a discussion with colleagues at my workplace, it became clear to me that practically most of them blindly buy into the idea that politicians are “men or of the people”. In Kenyan street lingo we will say “wanatufeel” (meaning they clearly understand what we are going through,) which as a matter of fact they do not. Having created such a mindset in the populace the PR agencies and their political clients will have scored a goal.
We have always been fed with propaganda but as we approach the general elections these messages will become more frequent and only the person with a discerning eye will be able to identify them and thus take care not to be manipulated.
Some kinds of propaganda have the capability of plunging a country into anarchy because of the meanings attached to words uttered. Apart from painting the opponent(s) in negative light, the name calling propaganda technique, for instance, has the ability to propel a country into bloodshed. During the Rwandan genocide members of the Tutsi community were labeled as cockroaches. A tag like this has a deadly underlying meaning. What will you do to cockroaches that have infested your house? You kill them! It is shocking how just by being prompted by such propaganda peddled by media we can slaughter our neighbors and childhood friends.
Because we are human beings with reason, we should always employ our intellect as we consume the various messages supplied to us by vested interests such as corporate organizations and politicians. We should cease being passive recipients of messages but active participants who interrogate the information with the sole purpose of making informed decisions.
Enoch Tonui is a Master of Arts in Journalism and Communication student at Egerton university

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