The Observer today had this headline to an article on its Comment page, “When government propaganda is disguised as fact.” It argued that propaganda is a damaging and divisive tool, referencing  the currrent ‘health tourism’ dispute.

Last week an official government report announced that the NHS is spending up to £2bn on foreign visitor and short-term migrants with Jeremy Hunt saying we couldn’t afford “an international heath service” with fewer than 50% of ‘chargeable’ foreign nationals.

A day later the London School of Hygiene, quoting research commissioned by the government, told a different story. It said twice as many foreign visitors pay as exploit the service and the UK is a net exporter of patients. In the propaganda battle too late, the damage had been done. The “facts” pitched by Hunt will have a life for far longer than the truth.

Of course ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ is nothing new in politics but there seems to be more of it with the pressure of 24/7 news and everyone listening to everyone else.

How does the typical business pitch, non-political propaganda, stack up? For the most part better.Business in general is ethical but in the pitch it is common sense that dictates ‘good’ behaviour. Whatever the brief, the prospect is seeking a relationship that they will enjoy, that will reflect well on them and where trust is everything. Misinformation, twisting facts or ‘knocking’ rivals does not impress.

This does not mean that propaganda, honestly applied, should not direct the pitch. The recent Propaganda exhibition (PROPAGANDA  Power and Persuasion) at the British Library offered this definition:


. “It is the deliberate attempt to influence the opinion of an audience, through the transmission of ideas and values, for a specific persuasive purpose that has been consciously thought out and designed to serve the self-interest of the propagandist, either directly or indirectly”.