Winning the propaganda wars

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Together with the ongoing Israel-Hamas and Ukraine-Russia conflict and many other civil wars, the cold war between the western democratic alliance against the autocratic China/Russia/North Korea/Iran axis are the massive propaganda wars between them. These propaganda wars pushing for the information and narratives favorable to their sides, are as costly as the hot wars, and using as much resources as winning the hearts and minds of the people is crucial in winning the total war. Due to globalization, the advances in IT and social media, the propaganda battleground has broadened and widened geographically and economically that it now covers 70% of the world population that have access to all media in newspapers, radio/TV, and social media.

Propaganda has always been a component of politics, governments, and governance. Before the 20th century the objective of governments/political leaders was to limit the access and amount of information its citizens/people and can get, and allow only news/information good for their regime to be known. In the 1900s when the printing press was invented and later on radio broadcasts, and democracy was emerging, the autocratic governments shifted to dominating/controlling the media to print and air only those that favored the ruling class. Hitler’s Goebbels and other tyrants in World War I and II did this successfully.

We are now in the 21st century and the information and communication battleground is changing faster in scope, terrain, and technology.

In the first week after the raid of Hamas militants on Israel, Hamas/Palestine was clobbered in all media and global sympathy was with Israel. In the second and third week, with the expanded coverage of the war, Palestine was gaining more sympathy with partisans not only in the Arab world but also in democratic countries in Europe, Asia, and even the US. In the fourth and fifth weeks, massive amounts of news and propaganda were flooding media from both sides on deaths and atrocities, including historical perspectives, that there now seems to be a balance in propaganda and sympathies to both sides.

A propaganda situation is also happening in the Ukraine-Russia war but the battle lines are better defined. Autocratic Russia is clearly the invader against a democratic Ukraine, so the European and other western democracies are on the side of Ukraine. Russian propaganda is aimed more to their own people and allies and less concerned and not exerting much effort in convincing their enemy’s population. The case of expansionist China and its hegemonic ambitions is different, so their propaganda is aimed at the whole world. Its obsession with Taiwan and the South China Sea over the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and to achieve superpower status encompasses the whole world. The “Belt and Road” initiatives and massive lending to developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America is part and parcel of their propaganda wars. So is their intervention in elections and influencing government actions in many countries. China has more “trolls” than any country, on top of their massive propaganda and censorship government bureaus, which controls/restricts information available to their own people, and floods Chinese propaganda to the whole world.

As the target market/audience of propaganda is the people, winning the propaganda wars depends on the people. In advanced countries, 85% of the population is the vulnerable target, while in developing countries some 65%, due to access of information and capability. The more discerning the people are on what is fact and fiction, what is true and fake news, the better the effect/result of propaganda on the actions of the governments. Governments/politicians respond to propaganda impacts. Israel, Palestine, Russia, Ukraine, and even Myanmar, Cambodia, Iran, and Syria, adjust/pivot their government actions. So did the European countries, the US and China on the various global conflicts. In the Philippines, the Filipinos 80% distrust China and the elimination of the Confidential and Intelligence Funds of the vice president, even with the massive propaganda by the trolls, are classic examples on how the people won the propaganda war. People eventually win propaganda wars with truth and justice.

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