Propaganda Journalism

Propaganda is a tool more and more commonly used in television journalism. 
During the February 7 class we discussed the alternative to a neutral or hard news approach. Due to increased competition among news outlets, the media seeks out new ways to capture the audience – by using emotion to evoke a feeling – far beyond the old rule of a neutral approach.

We call it propaganda – and it has been around longer than we may realize. As shown in class, German documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was a mastermind in filming techniques. She evoked the feeling of superpower personae through the lens when filming Adolf Hitler. Every angle, every shot and every sound served the purpose of pro-Nazi propaganda, despite her denying that intention. Her documentary, Triumph of the Will, turned out to be a leading example of one-sided media.  

These days, there is more of a catch with television news as it is sometimes difficult to differentiate the neutral anchor and the swaying propagandist because propaganda can send out a message in the most subtle and obscure ways. By throwing in one-sided facts, testimonials or “glittering generalities,” viewers may be caught joining the bandwagon of thought without consenting to it.

Any genuine news station that follows the traditional standards of journalism knows that there is no room for single-sided news reporting, which is why we watched a clip from “Vantage Point” in which a reporter is cut off the air once she begins expressing her opinion on live television.

It is the job of the reporter to maintain a robotic-like approach. British Journalist, David Frost, was a fine example of such approaches. In the famous sit-down with President Richard Nixon, Frost remained stoic while the disgraced president offered an apology on camera. It was not the interviewer’s place to lead the conversation anywhere else at that moment, as Nixon – the subject himself – was leading the interview in a direction Frost could have hoped for but not forced. By having the subject offer his own words in such a genuine way, the audience is completely free to form their own opinions. Yes, the camera may have shifted its focus closer to Nixon’s face in order to capture the expression in his eyes, but as a journalist, Frost played his role right.

As Professor Orosz said in class, journalists have a responsibility to remain aware of their tremendous power. We can do a close-up shot to evoke a feeling but it is our job to ensure the audience is given all sides of a story in order to form their own opinion. That is, after all, the general rule of thumb in journalism.  

Propaganda is an easy approach for those seeking fast and dramatic impact. But for those among us seeking to bring up the issue and be responsible to those reading, watching or listening to us, that is a route we should endeavour not to go down.

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