Using PROPAGANDA During Elections: The Need For Caution

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

It is an indisputable fact that one of the major kinds of communications that is commonly used during electoral, especially campaign period by various candidates or aspirants is ‘Propaganda’. They do this with the belief of ingratiating or conciliating the voters to join their desire for an elective office. Principally, this is done in a way and manner in which some of the wrongs or shortcomings of their opponents are exposed to the voting public, with the intent of discouraging the voters from voting for the person against whom such a propaganda piece has been written or propagated.

Propaganda, as it is known is also involved in the spreading of special messages to interested or opposing parties during an electoral process.What is clear is that the one who engages in this does so deliberately knowing fully that such information would cause damage to his or her opponent, as it is geared toward making people to think and behave in a certain way favorable to the person who is involved in disseminating or propagating this.

Regrettably, while propaganda is a common communication tool during such processes, sometimes because of the lack of care, it is not properly used, thus defeating its purposes. It is not just about deception, but also capitalizing on the mistakes or shortcomings of an opponent. As former Information Minister Reginald Goodridge once said, ‘it is the embellishment of the truth,” because when the opposite is discovered, this would be a boomerang to the one who spread such falsehood, as the desired result for such a so-called propaganda, would be defeated.

As one book defines it, Propaganda, “is the spreading of ideas information or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause or a person; ideas, facts or allegations spreading deliberately to further one’s cause or damage an opposing cause; also a public action having such an effect. It is also the manipulation of information to influence public opinion.”

Moreover, it is also defined as a ‘form of communication aimed toward influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.” On the other hand, it is also referred to as “misleading publicity: deception or distorted information that is systematically spread.”

Whatever the situation, as men seek to undo others in a campaign, especially in politics, as we are now facing they would always employ propaganda, which are mostly done through the mainstream media, as this could read a wider audience, thereby impacting them.

Today, this may not be a controversial or topical issue on the national scene but recent development taking place in the face of the pending Special Senatorial Elections gives rise for some comments on this issue. As stated earlier, propaganda would also exist in the political season of people seeking elective posts. Now is that which relates to the Liberian Senate, as the tenure of 15 of the Senators would expire soon, precipitating the holding of this special election to fill those vacancies to be created soon.

As it is already known, in the ongoing process, nearly all of the incumbents are seeking re-elections. Even some of them who were defeated during the parties’ primaries have resigned from their parties and are now going independent or joining forces with other parties in their bid to succeed themselves.

I decided on this to share some of my experiences during my studies in the field of Mass Communication, regarding the issue of self-designed propaganda stories by some individuals who usually get them out through the media. Sometimes members of the media, in their desire to publish or broadcast “BIG STORIES” may fall victim to this deliberate and distorted flow of communication.

Yes, it is true that propaganda may come as information from an opponent against another opponent, but care is necessary. At times, these may appear on the internet which the former President Charles Taylor referred to as “super highway” with all kinds of vehicles, meaning one should expect lots, whether substantiated or not. It is unfortunate that sometimes, things carried on the internet are seen as the truth and may find their way into the local media.

Noticeably, experiences have shown that sometimes it comes from the very candidate against himself, only to produce a positive reaction, after the publication or broadcast of this falsehood. The story is told of a situation at one time when the supporters of a particular campaign in an election, designed falsehood against their candidate and sold it at high price to their opponent.

The opponent, believing that what they had received was true and a bombshell against their opponents, without due diligence and care, called a press conference and revealed that to the media. The media, too, believing that, that was something coming from the opposition and that it was as “HOT CAKE”, lionized it in their publication and broadcast.

As the story is told, few days later, the opponent against whom the story was carried, knowingly exploited the situation and termed such falsehood is the usual manner as “false, misleading, unfounded and that such has no iota of truth.” With this, they would go on challenging their opponent, the one spreading the message to substantiate their claim. Perhaps, they may even threaten court action to further make their opponent to be a public ridicule. Also, such a threat could be made against the media for publishing such story, especially in a situation when the story is “One-sided.”

Embarrassingly, after realizing that they were duped and misled, the party that publicized that falsehood retracted the story and apologized for such falsehood. Indeed, that affected the chances of the party that spread the falsehood.

And so you see, there are times one party would design falsehood and get it to the other party only as a public relations piece, thereby bringing the party to whom the falsehood was given to public disrepute and disgrace.

Considering the days ahead to be more tense and challenging for the pending election and the momentum it has generated, supporters of aspirants or candidates, as well as media practitioners, should see this time as a time to exercise care and due diligence in handling stories that borders on others’ characters and reputation, as this could be a deliberate attempt by others to use the media.

As, we, media practitioners cover these processes leading to the final comedown on the day of voting, we should exercise due diligence, prudence and care as there could be “planted” by either sides that could also bring the credibility of the media into question, as the media is always the conduit used in such a situation.

Until we are mindful of these deceptive communication techniques, in some instances, . I REST MY CASE.