Journalists regularly write articles based on press releases: information about new developments within a company or organisation sent out by their PR department to gain media attention. The aim of press releases is always to create a positive image of the organisation. When journalists base their reporting on press releases, propaganda can seep into the news.
Advertising in itself is not propaganda. While the aim of propaganda is to sway the public opinion and influence people’s behaviour, advertising primarily aims to make money. But advertisers still regularly use propaganda techniques to reach their goal: for example, targeting a specific subgroup of the population.
When you think about propaganda in relation to the government, the first thing that comes to mind might be the posters and debates during elections. But that’s not the only type of propaganda spread by politicians. The government creates plenty of propaganda that serves the common good, like the campaign to urge people to get vaccinated during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are plenty of films, books and series that share information that takes a specific point of view on contemporary society. For example, many American films and games make it seem like violence is courageous. These kinds of values are transmitted in a narrative form. When this is a conscious choice, we can label it propaganda.
Occasionally propaganda creeps into the classroom. For example, specific sectors like the energy sector create lessons for the curriculum. These aren’t just meant to teach the students something, but also to create an interest for their sector. Similarly, teaching materials aimed at arousing interest in STEM are a type of propaganda.
Propaganda can have positive aims too. Countless interest groups, including NGOs, aid groups and lobby groups, use propaganda to draw attention to a certain message or campaign. The Belgian campaign Maai Mei Niet, which encouraged the population to refrain from mowing their lawns for a month in order to let nature prosper, is a good example.