Excellent article by Edward Snowden in The Guardian about conspiracy theories. This is an old trick in propaganda, focus the attention on something polarizing to make the masses react, so that you can act freely on what truly matters. Snowden knows what he is talking about, and I encourage you to read his short and to-the-point article to explain why conspiracy theories are so popular today. He also uses the work of Jesse Walker on conspiracy theories. I also use Walker to explain why there is such a need of coherent yet false stories to explain today's world that goes way too fast for all of us.
I am honored and happy that the University of the Netherlands asked me to record a lecture on propaganda. It is a great initiative to provide free lectures from university professors in the Netherlands. I have to say I did not choose the thumbnail picture for Youtube but I guess it had to be provocative. Let me know what you think about the video!
This survey is not recent, but I came across it today and thought it was an interesting way to also understand politics in Europe. I have no idea why Albania scores so high but I am not surprised by the excellent ranking of the Netherlands. Dutch newspapers have a long tradition of fact-checking and if reading them can be rather boring (the Dutch are not famous for their storytelling skills...), it is always solid information. On the other end of the spectrum, the UK scores very low, especially in the past years. This drop of 24 points is probably linked to the heavy pro-Brexit campaign of English tabloids and other conservative outlets such as the Tele(Tory)graph.
It is also interesting to cross these numbers with the rankings from Reporters without Borders on Freedom of the press. The UK holds the 33rd spot, the Netherlands is 6th, Albania is 83rd. Could it be that Albania has a long tradition of trusting the media imposed by the power during a tough communist regime? Could it be that British people are right not to trust their media (with a few exceptions, such as the excellent Guardian)? Could it be that the Netherlands should be in charge of the Pulitzer Prize, and maybe change its name so that the inventor of Yellow journalism is not the highest reward for quality investigation?
As CNN puts it ironically, "For a decidedly atheist political organization, China's ruling Communist Party is fond of talking about its origins in religious terms."
Mainland China is celebrating 100 year of the Chinese Communist Party and it seems it is equivalent to the birth of Modern China. For the current Great Leader, it is rather obvious:
“As long as we have a thorough understanding…[of history]…it is not difficult to realize that without the leadership of the Communist Party of China, our country and our people could not have achieved today’s accomplishments, nor risen to the position we currently occupy in the world” (Qiushi, June 15, as reported in Jamestown)
For those interested in Chinese propaganda, the Party has released a new propaganda blueprint that is analyzed by the China Media Project. China is in dire need of celebrating its success as the rest of the world hesitates to rejoice along. The Diplomat is rather critical about the celebrations:
The fundamental problem facing the CCP’s propaganda apparatus is that the reality of party history is much more unsavory than leaders are willing to acknowledge. It includes disastrous policies that cost tens of millions of Chinese lives during the Mao era, as well as more contemporary crackdowns on student demonstrators, human rights lawyers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians, and Falun Gong adherents – not to mention the daily abuse and indignities suffered by victims of corruption, ham-fisted development schemes, population controls, and mind-numbing political campaigns like the one currently underway.
In June was also celebrated the memory of the massacre of Tiananmen Square, 32 years ago, an episode that the Chinese Communist Party is doing its very best to erase from its past.
According to Apple Daily, China is still in the process of learning the importance of a positive image in today's hyperconnected world:
On May 31, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a Politburo group study session that officials needed to “better construct China’s stories and tell China’s discourse and narratives” and promote a more “reliable, admirable and respectable” image.
After instructing its diplomats to have an aggressive approach to diplomacy similar to the heroes of Wolf Warrior, the centralized government of the People's Republic of China wants to use a softer approach to public diplomacy. Uncomfortable with the issues of Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or its internal communities, Beijing wants to manage the international perception of the Uyghur with a seductive campaign of videos:
CCTV News on Sunday posted a video on Weibo featuring Uyghur celebrities Nigermaidi Zechman and Dilraba Dilmurat, as well as Tong Liya, an actress of Xibe ethnicity who was born in Xinjiang. The video was three and a half minutes long and introduced Xinjiang’s geography, culture and specialty foods.
It is difficult to evaluate whether or not this change of tone is radical or part of a strategy to control the narrative about China and its right to deal with any questions related to its sphere of influence. What remains is the amateurism of China in Public diplomacy, especially after denying the existence of concentration camps for its muslim minorities, before acknowledging them as "vocational training facilities".
Apple Daily is also threatened by the expanding power of Beijing over the former British colony of Hong Kong.
I have been following the work of Glenn Greenwald for a while and am impressed by his integrity as a journalist. It is not always easy to be an independent thinker and Greenwald tries his very best. Recently, he published a post on his substack on Rachel Maddow, the high-priestess of liberal "prêt-à-penser". I recommend the whole article but in a nutshell, it deals with the ambiguity of comedians or personalities like Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, or Rachel Maddow who have a political agenda but use humor to seduce their audience. Recently, a judge has ruled the following according to Greenwald:
The point of Maddow’s show is for her to provide the news but also to offer her opinions as to that news. Therefore, the Court finds that the medium of the alleged defamatory statement makes it more likely that a reasonable viewer would not conclude that the contested statement implies an assertion of objective fact.
Therefore, we should not consider Maddow's show to be anything but opinions. So, what's the point then? the irony is Maddow was accusing another media, One America News, of being Russian propaganda. Would Maddow be a tool of American propaganda? It's just her opinion, the judge said. An opinion that matters to millions of viewers, convinced of being on the right side of information.
Public diplomacy is another variation of propaganda, and also works on controlling the beliefs. The United Kingdom has always performed very well when it comes to using cultural seduction for global influence but after Brexit, its ability might decline. The Guardian reports that "EU prepares to cut amount of British TV and film shown post-Brexit" . According to the British newspaper:
The EU is preparing to act against the “disproportionate” amount of British television and film content shown in Europe in the wake of Brexit, in a blow to the UK entertainment industry and the country’s “soft power” abroad.
The UK has come up recently with a new image of Global Britain. According to most observers, this is an empty concept that tries to capitalize on regaining a so-called sovereignty after the UK exited the European Union. This new episode of the cultural war between the former British empire and the continent will probably not be the last. We can expect Boris Johnson, UK prime minister for now, to use this new blow as a way to stir up the already inflammable nationalist fire in England and the rest of its vassal nations.
Years ago, I had a blog, mostly about Lebanon where I was living at the time. I was dealing mostly with what was happening in the Middle East at the time and got referenced by several media, grew a surprisingly big number of critical followers, and got threatened with lawsuits twice. When I left Lebanon, I tried to blog again but it felt the moment was gone.
We live in hyperinformation and I am amazed by the amount of information I have to deal with everyday. I teach mass communication at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and I can feel how my students are struggling to acquire accurate information. I also noticed this issue when I train diplomats and civil servants at Clingendael, the Diplomatic Academy of the Netherlands. As I have the luxury to receive a salary to think about the information process, I am reopening my blog to hopefully help readers to understand the constantly changing process of information.
I will tackle topics as they appear and also spend some time on concepts. I like the idea that a blog is free, global, and easy to update without filters. I hope to be as regular as I used to be with one post a day, but am aiming more at one per week. I am not as available as I was as a younger man, but will try to do my best to post often. You can always ask questions in the comments, once you start existing as an audience.
See you soon, read me in the future.