Essential reading: the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda, by John Brown

John Brown, formerly of the Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, wrote a terrific short discussion of the differences between public diplomacy and propaganda. I recommend you read it.

At its best, public diplomacy:

  • Provides a truthful, factual exposition and explication of a nation’s foreign policy and way of life to overseas audiences;
  • Encourages international understanding; 
  • Listens and engages in dialogue;
  • Objectively displays national achievements overseas, including in the arts.

At its worst, propaganda:

  • Forces its messages on an audience, often by repetition and slogans;
  • Demonizes elements of the outside world;
  • Simplifies complex issues;
  • Misrepresents the truth or deliberately lies.

Both public diplomacy and propaganda, at their best or their worst, can achieve credibility with their audiences. However, the best public diplomacy achieves credibility through careful presentation of fact and thoughtful argumentation, while the worst propaganda achieves credibility by falsification and sensationalism. As a rule, public diplomacy at its best, which appeals to the intellect, is believed in the long run, while propaganda at its worst, which inflames atavistic emotions, is believed only for short periods. The best public diplomacy convinces audiences that its content and purpose mesh, and that therefore it is honest; the worst propaganda leads audiences to believe that its contents do not reveal its true purpose, and that therefore it is dishonest.

2 Replies to “Essential reading: the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda, by John Brown”

  1. I disagree with the two circle analogy. I think the Public Diplomacy circle resides ENTIRELY within the Propaganda circle. To explain, let’s look at the DoD definitions of Propaganda:”propaganda – (DOD) Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.”
    Doesn’t this DoD definition lead us to conclude that all Public Diplomacy is, in fact, propaganda?

  2. I agree. Public Diplomacy are nice words for propaganda. Is their a word for either that is completly altruistic?

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