On Good and Bad Propaganda
The origins of propaganda may be traced back to the time when groups of people first exercised power over others. This implies that in those days already attempts were being made to influence the public. The word propaganda (L. propagare – ‘to spread’) is assumed to originate from the organisation Congregatio de propaganda fide of the Roman Catholic cardinals that was founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.
Those days propaganda was defined as a product of well-organised mental work, the aim of which was to persuade large masses of the good features of an organisation, process or a person.
Propaganda reached its high in the 20th century. A great boost was given by the world wars of the 20th century and the subsequent ideological struggle during the Cold War era, as the states had a vital need to fight for the loyalty and good will of their nations. Because of Nazi propaganda, the word acquired negative meaning.
In Estonia, activities related to propaganda became more active in the year 1924 when the minister without portfolio Karl Ast was appointed to office. His responsibilities included the publicizing the work of the government and the state amongst the population.
On the basis of events in the 1920s, a State Propaganda Service (SPS) was founded in Estonia in 1935; the main tasks of the Service were generally the same as those of the minister without portfolio in the years 1924-1925. Although later conflicting opinions have been expressed regarding the SPS, it should be acknowledged that those days it gave a substantial contribution to the creation of solidarity among the nation and the organising of several successful national campaigns.
For the same reasons, active provision of information and propaganda should be also performed in today’s Estonia. The Public Information Act that entered into force lately, the websites of public institutions and local governments, the Government’s Internet portal TOM, and the planned Valitsuse Teataja (The Government Gazette) will contribute to this cause.
Thus it may be said that although the word propaganda is often undeservedly in disgrace even today, we cannot do without it, as there is a need for more information than available so far from the state to balance the information provided by the media and also to strengthen the image of the state in the mind of the audience.