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The evil side of propaganda: the meaning and historical account

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Thu, 9 Jun 2016 Source: Badu, K

Propaganda is defined in its most neutral and simple sense as “the persuasive dissemination of particular ideas or material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause (Oxford English Dictionary 2012).”

In other words, “propagandism” is the systematic propagation of a doctrine or information reflecting the views and interests of those propagating such information or doctrine.

What’s more, the experts contend that a message can be classified as propaganda if it “suggests something negative and dishonest”.

The preceding definition somehow summarises Hitler’s observation on propaganda. Hitler observed: "With the help of a skillful and continuous application of propaganda, it is possible to make the people conceive even of heaven as hell (Adolf Hitler)."

It is well documented that the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian conflict, the Holocaust (the barbaric crime against Jews) and the devastation that befell the Americans’ on September 11 2001, were all facilitated by propagandist elocutions.

As a matter of fact and concern, the aforementioned unfortunate atrocities perpetrated against mankind should guide all Ghanaians to stay away from any form of propagandistic declamations that might end up in a confused and tumultuous mingling.

It is important to note that while propaganda was first prosecuted as an international crime during the Nuremburg Trials, it was not officially prohibited by international law until the adoption of Article 20 of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1966.

It must however be noted that the meaning of propaganda traces its roots to the “Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide”- a committee of Cardinals founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV to oversee the spread of Catholicism abroad, by any means necessary.

Consequently, the word propaganda came to mean the concerted effort to spread any belief Propagandists are associated with. Thus propaganda is regarded as "a deliberate attempt to alter or maintain a balance of power that is advantageous to the propagandists."

Inasmuch as the purpose of propaganda may be as benign as the encouragement of party supporters by leaders’, to resist any form of violence, or show patriotic pride, propaganda can also have a darker side.

For, we must not and cannot lose sight of the fact that wars, crimes and genocides against humanity are arguably expedited through the use of propaganda aimed at securing popular support for illegal and violent action.

This can be witnessed in the modern era. For we can attest to the Nazi propaganda which preceded the Holocaust, the Radio and Television propaganda which preceded the Rwandan Genocide and al-Qaeda propaganda which preceded the attacks on ‘World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.

Thus, we can infer that propagandistic declamations could spell doom for a nation. So it is necessary and proper to stay away from any opprobrious epithets that can incite violence.

Even though freedom of speech and expression is an inalienable human right, it has permitted abridgment, in national and international jurisprudence. This right, like others, may be restricted to protect and balance other rights and interests.

Nevertheless, it is the complexion and the degree of these restrictions that is frequently contended in extant human rights and security jurisprudence.

Two known restrictions on the right to freedom of expression are: The prohibition of advocacy of any national, racial or religious hatred and the prohibition of propaganda. All the same, the prohibition of propaganda is not innately contradictory to the right to freedom of expression.

The right holder, however, has to be cognisant of the duty and obligations which are encapsulated in the international human rights instruments.

Interestingly, however, while propaganda for genocide is codified as an international crime, the propaganda for the incitement to aggressive war is not. However, incitement to commit an illegal act is in itself illegal under international law.

Incitement, instigation, abetment and solicitation are all common to various criminal codes world-wide. These are generally considered "inchoate offense[s]" or "a step toward[s] the commission of another crime, the step itself being serious enough to merit punishment”.

In the English common law for instance, there are three general inchoate offenses: 1) attempt; 2) conspiracy; and 3) incitement.

“ Incitement conveys a "general label to cover any use of words or other device by which a person is requested, urged, advised, and counselled, tempted, commanded, or otherwise enticed to commit a crime."

Despite the evils associated with propaganda, political parties in Ghana are resorting to propagandist prelection to win favours from the electorates.

As a matter of fact, it is villainous for any political party in Ghana to resort to unnecessary propagandist orations, considering the apocalypse of such praxes.

In a great scheme of things, it would be necessary and proper for our politicians to discuss issues that may move the nation forward, and refrain from lies, crude caricature and tempestuous insults which can only spell doom for the nation.

It is fair to say that we can only improve our socio-economic standard of living if we engage in useful dialogues and come up with expedient policies that can move the nation forward.

I will therefore entreat all politicians and their apple-polishers to end the gratuitous political inebriations and rhetoric and start hitting the ground running.

Caveat: Ghana is the only country we have, and as such we cannot and must not allow the lunatic fringe of political parties to bring hell upon us.

God bless Ghana!


Blank, J. S., Grinter, E. L, Magyar, P. K, Ware, B. L, and Weathers, E. B, (2002) The Cultural and Historical Causes of Conflicts

Hayden, M. R. (2002) “Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites in South Asia and the Balkans”

Kabasakal, Z. F. (2006) “Forging a Global Culture of Human Rights: Origins and Prospects of the International Bill of Rights

Marks, S. P. (1998) “From the "Single Confused Page" to the "Decalogue for Six Billion Persons: The Roots of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the French Revolution

Reynolds, D. (2002) “From World War to Cold War: The Wartime Alliance and Post-War Transitions, 1941-1947”

Tarantola, D. (2008)”A Perspective on the History of Health and Human Rights: From the Cold War to the Gold War

The Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (2013) The Legal Definition of Genocide

United Nations (1966) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The Oxford English Dictionary (2012)

Columnist: Badu, K