It’s as simple as ABC – Propaganda is a Bitch

truth or lies

Often I have to thumb through both mainstream and alternative media and of course Facebook, etc., before a hazy but more visible picture emerges. But who has the luxury of time to check every day that you are not being fed spins or lies? Do you?

Kenneth Lee

Collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction – Plutarch Heavensbee

The character “Plutarch Heavensbee” in the movie Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is interesting. He was Panem’s former Head Gamemaker later turned PR guru and mastermind for the rebellion.

Heavensbee, in trying to convince Katniss Everdeen to be the face of the Revolution, said, “So we’re gonna shoot a series of propaganda clips, propos, I like to call them, on the Mockingjay. Spread the word that we’re gonna stoke the fire of this rebellion. The fire that The Mockingjay started.” And that’s how a propo starts.

If you watch this media manipulator skillful at selling perception in the Hunger Games series, you will know that Heavensbee was all about the camera and what it captured, even if he had to edit it. He was also a wordsmith who could make any small snippet anyone said into propaganda gold.

I was originally going to say that Heavensbee reminded me of some old men or cartoons pakating together in the Save Malaysia campaign, but I found it hard to equate his mastery with theirs. I will give them credit though that they have pulled out all the stops with media friends including some from UK and now Down Under.

The trick of propaganda is as old as the hills. Hitler’s buddy Goebbels said, if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. While far from resembling Nazi propaganda against the Jews, the following are two examples.

If you recall in 2003, President George W Bush led USA to invade Iraq. He justified invasion with convincing “evidence” that Saddam Hussein had been hiding threatening quantities of weapons of mass destruction. One of this evidence included testimony from a fake Iraqi self-proclaimed bombmaker who had defected to the US.

The media (such as New York Times and Fox News) went to town about WMDs being found in Iraq and condemned Saddam Hussein to his death. After the death of thousands including Saddam, in 2005, CIA confessed that they had found nothing. Post the war, the pro-invasion bias was highly criticized for dramatising positive events whilst downplaying negative developments. New York Times in 2004 admitted that their journalism in the build-up to the war may have been aggressive and examination of materials lax.

Closer to home, you would know about Khmer Rouge and the one to three million Cambodians they tortured and slaughtered between 1975 to 1979. Millions of other Cambodians had to flee. What some people may not know is that when the atrocities were happening, Pol Pot the leader of Khmer Rouge instigated a campaign to hoodwink the international media to deny these stories. These denials were perpetuated by Western academics and so-called investigators sent to check out his story, and their delusional tales of having caviar with Pol Pot and the absence of Khmer troops were published in the Western world.

When the truth came out after the mass graves were discovered, one of these pro-Khmer writers admitted their intellectual arrogance and naivety. With the help of some international media, Pol Pot managed to prolong his genocidal years.

Propaganda and selective media handiwork can vary in degrees. As we know, the Dalai Lama is revered as the world’s most esteemed spiritual Buddhist leader, and any tarnish to this great gentle man may be considered inconceivable. So it was shocking when he made “sexist” remarks in an interview with BBC in late 2015 that a female reincarnate of a Dalai Lama must be “attractive, otherwise it is not much use”.

Shocking as this statement was, BBC chose not to highlight it in their news piece (although they did air the full interview) raising ire amongst women’s group. Did BBC deliberately and selectively omit to publish this incongruent statement made by His Holiness to help him preserve his unblemished image? Only BBC knows, and that is because it is their platform which only they have control over.

Which goes to show that it is extremely dangerous to believe everything we read or rely solely on any one particular media or group of media for credible news these days. Often I have to thumb through both mainstream and alternative media and of course Facebook, etc., before a hazy but more visible picture emerges. But who has the luxury of time to check every day that you are not being fed spins or lies? Do you?

And this is infuriating. Doesn’t it infuriate you too? Haven’t you noticed lately that news in Malaysia is like a bloody ping pong game? A case of he said she said I didn’t say he said and he shouldn’t have said. One day one will make a bold statement and a sharp accusation, tomorrow we will hear the rebuttals, and it is only a few days later that a clearer picture may come to light by which time it is too late, our minds may have been made up on way or another. Why don’t they wait a day or so and report a better piece? Why don’t any newspaper stop creating sensational headlines, using “invert commas” to express their sarcasm and quit repeating soundbites? I’m almost longing for some boring factual reporting.

Add international media to the mix, and I would personally liken news in Malaysia to a giant double-sided jigsaw puzzle that will take a long time for the truth to be revealed. And the real trouble is – propagandists and media like playing this game with us, because they only play to win for profit and/or agenda.

And frankly often times I think we let them win.

Like George Orwell said, “One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

So maybe we are addicted to the drama and gossipy news. Or maybe we have a growing culture of keh-pohcees or know-it-alls. But nothing is more infuriating in this “war” between the gajahs in Malaysian politics than to see decent ordinary gentle Malaysians fighting other people’s battles senselessly, becoming Hulks that they are (probably) not, often releasing expletives when they have nothing more to say. Call them cybertroopers or Red Bean Army or whatever you want, they are sadly themselves propagandists however minor you might argue.

So it is really as simple as ABC – propaganda is quite a bitch. Tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, publish it, video it, they will tell you what to read, hear, say, think and repeat. And they will tell you this from all four corners of the world.

And until our own thinking and maturity catches up with the speed propagandists feed you with half-truths, twists and spins and one-sided tales, just repeat after me – it is as simple as ABC – their propaganda is a bitch.

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