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Public Diplomacy=Propaganda?

by on May 11, 2012

Public Diplomacy=Propaganda?

Public Diplomacy is aimed at informing foreign publics, its mission is the achievement of national interest by understanding, informing, engaging and persuading foreign audience, Public Diplomacy is as much about a process by which both sides learn, as it is to convince someone. However, there seems to be a disagreement between scholars what public diplomacy is, since some find a connection between public diplomacy and Propaganda.

Berridge, for example, relates those two concepts as follows, “Propaganda is the manipulation of public opinion through the mass media for political ends, whether it is honest or subtle or not.” Furthermore he states that Public Diplomacy is the modernised version of white Propaganda, which is aimed at influencing public opinion. In his opinion Public Diplomacy is just a euphemism for Propaganda, because governments who carry out Propaganda cannot call it Propaganda, because of its associations with something negative, evil and lies.

However, his opponent Jan Melissen does not completely agree with the critics of Public Diplomacy. He distinguishes the two terms by their concept of communication, he argues that “Public Diplomacy is a two- way street, it is similar to Propaganda in the sense of trying to persuade People what to think, however the main difference is that Public Diplomacy also listens to what people have to say, which is not the case with Propaganda”.

Joseph Nye also criticises the opponents of Public Diplomacy, he says that those who think that Public Diplomacy is just a euphemism of Propaganda misunderstood the whole concept of it. Public Diplomacy is compare to Propaganda about building relationships between nations it is used to create a better political environment. He furthermore states in his article that “the world of traditional power politics was typically about whose military or economy would win, however in today’s information age, politics is also about whose “story” wins. In current times the strongest element of Power is Public Diplomacy. In addition he argues that reputation was always important in world politics, but credibility has become more vital because of a “paradox of plenty”, therefore politicians should use more often soft power rather than hard power, since it is more effective.

Reflecting the definitions of Public Diplomacy and Propaganda the question arises if those two concepts are the same thing. There are indeed some who would argue that Public Diplomacy has the same intentions like Propaganda, both concept´s purpose is to narrow and close the minds of the people, by trying to tell them what to think. However, there will probably never be a universal agreement on both concepts, since both are difficult o define.


Berridge. G.R. (2010) Diplomacy: Theory and Practice

Melissen, J. (2005) The New Public Diplomacy

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One Comment
  1. Karen Melchior permalink

    Good summery, I’d recommend having a look at as well.

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