Dr. Colin Alexander examines the use of propaganda in the government’s coronavirus communications.
The public information briefings that occurred at about 5 pm each day from Downing Street during the first lockdown in spring and summer of 2020 were episodes in propaganda straight out of the wartime playbook. Rather than being ‘public information’ events as they were so described, they were in fact filled with ‘strategic communications’ intent on manipulating the public to the ends of the powerful. They were carefully staged, choreographed and scripted by spin doctors and other political communications professionals working for a government that is addicted to propaganda and cannot fathom engagement in public communications through any other prism.
Furthermore, the UK government’s approach to Coronavirus briefings in the first half of 2020 may harm the long-term trust of the public in governance and the various organs of state that are entwined with the crisis. Public Health England, for example. Indeed, Chris Witty, Patrick Valance, Jenny Harries et al – by standing next to the cabinet minister of the day – may end up tainted as manipulators-in-chief themselves through their (and the organisations that they represent) implicit endorsement of the government’s approach to public communications.
These are the guidelines for propaganda:
- Appeal to the instincts rather than the reason of the audience.
- Discuss definite objects rather than large concepts.
- Build around a slogan. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- Always consider the timing of the release of information.
- Never be dull or offensive.
- Direct communications solely to the masses. Do not talk about them.
- Awaken the audience’s social conscience.
- Make reference to episodes of gallantry and fellowship within cultural memory. E.g. Blitz spirit.
- Encourage the notion that those on the frontline are national heroes.
- Never deviate from the line that ‘victory will prevail’.