Propaganda & Control


‘Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.’

Noam Chomsky



Propaganda is the design and dissemination of information that either contains partial truths or little truth at all, for the purpose of persuading the audience to believe the point of view being put forward.

We have seen forms of this already in advertising: the promotion of lies or partial truths in order to convince the consumer to purchase a product. It is also often used by political groups, both in and out of power, in order to gain support.

The 20th Century British writer George Orwell (1903-1950) was fascinated and appalled by the use of propaganda by the governments he observed around him, especially during the Second World War (it is often said that ‘the first casualty of war is the truth’). Use your knowledge of his works ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ to further your understanding of this topic. You will be reading ‘1984’ during this unit, and you will constantly be expected to refer to that text while talking about issues of propaganda and control.


Task 1

Where do you get your news from? Do you trust those sources? Have you ever thought about not trusting those sources? What is ‘trustworthy’ news, and how do we know when we are reading/watching it?

Only begin the following activity when you have a spent a few evenings watching CNN. You will need to follow the CNN channel for at least half an hour every evening for three or four days. You will be asked in class about some of the main stories – just to check that you’re watching!

When you’ve done that, watch this (vpn needed).

Then read these two documents below. They are quite long – one of them might be enough – but they show in detail why and how some items you see on CNN (and, perhaps, other rolling news channels) might not be actual news.

CNN Certainly Not News? (Part 1)                                               CNN Certainly Not News? (Part 2)

Take careful notes during the classroom discussions we will have about this; you will need these ideas later on down this page when we watch the film about TV news: ‘Outfoxed’.


Task 2

The issue of race relations is always in the news in various Western countries. Here is an article written in a centre-left, politically liberal British newspaper (The Guardian) about a right-wing newspaper (the Daily Star) that holds anti-immigrant views.

You can find further information (for example on race relations in the UK and on the English Defence League) via the links to the right of the banner photo.

The document below contains a selection of articles from the Daily Star, some of which are mentioned in the Guardian article.

Daily Star Investigation

Go through these articles and comment on how they portray the Muslim community in the UK. Then think about how they work: What techniques are being used here to create a certain message, or enforce a certain opinion? Finally, answer the questions at the bottom of the document and be prepared to discuss your ideas in class.

Should reporting like this be allowed? Or should newspapers like the Daily Star be controlled in some way? Read this.

The Press – Freedom or Control?

Keep these ideas in mind for the next section, in which we will discuss problems with the Internet, which will lead us to a similar discussion: Should the Internet be controlled?


Written Task

This would seem to be a good opportunity to try a Written Task in the style required by the IBO for final assessment. This first task is simply a practice; I will assess it to give you an idea of how well you have done, but the grade will not be part of your continual assessment grade for Semester 1.

The ‘Daily Star’ has been accused of publishing propaganda, not news. There will be a BBC TV debate about this, and members of the public will be invited to take part. Take one of the following roles and prepare a speech stating your point of view:

  • local Muslim councillor (not one of those mentioned in the article)
  • local EDL member
  • journalist from a generally liberal newspaper
  • editor of the Daily Star

Your speech needs to be written word for word (not in note form) so that it can be checked by the BBC for offensive comments before the TV show is broadcast.

When this task has been completed you will learn about writing a rationale to introduce your Written Task.

Once you have completed the Daily Star activities, watch this: ‘Reel Bad Arabs’.

Visual Analysis

Propaganda is often achieved most powerfully in visual images, as George Orwell understood well. The ability to analyse visual images is important in Paper 1, but also enters both this unit and Unit 1, as well as our studies of ‘Persepolis’. Here is an example of a practical application of analytical skills in a newspaper opinion piece; it talks about anti-immigrant propaganda and the writer’s opinions about it, and it does so through an analysis of a wordless comic designed by the Australian government to put potential immigrants off trying to enter Australia illegally.

Visual Analysis in Newspaper Commentary



Control over the information received by the general public is as old as the relationship between leaders and followers. This control is effected both through the use of propaganda and through the employment of mechanisms used to control the amount, type and detail of information we receive.

In the 21st Century, this control is complicated by the digital age, which is having the effect of making information available to all, and of making everyone able to disseminate information.

Recent example of this would be two much-publicised cases of whistle blowing that have occurred since 2010.

One was the leaking of hundreds of thousands of U.S. government documents classified at different levels of secrecy, allegedly by a junior officer in the U.S. Army named Bradley (Chelsea) Manning. These documents were handed over to the website Wikileaks, which, as its name implies, specialises in the leaking of official documents, in the belief that democratically elected governments have a responsibility to answers their citizens’ questions about government practise.

The second was the leaking of classified documents by Edward Snowden, subcontracted to work with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US, proving beyond doubt that the US and UK governments are storing the online history of their own citizens and those of other countries, allowing them the potential to retrieve that information and study it more closely at any time. This capability, and the government’s willingness to use it, is the strongest evidence yet to suggest that the Internet is more useful as a tool of control than as a provider of freedom of information.


Introductory Tasks

Read the following document and follow the links to find out more.

Wikileaks and Freedom of Information

Then read this more recent example of whistleblowing.

The NSA Files

Here are some further documents about the NSA case.

Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the internet is | Technology | The Observer

Miranda detention


Task 1

The Internet and Freedom of Speech

So, is the Internet a device to make information freely available to all, or is it a tool of repression and control?

Follow the links below for an introduction to the two sides of this argument.

This talk seeks to demonstrate how in the future we could be heading for a society in which information truly is free for all, despite government attempts to prevent it.

Or are we?



Following on from class discussions, use the document below to deepen your research into the issue of whether the Internet is actually a tool for freedom or control. You do not need to use all these articles, and would be advised to address either Talking Point 1 or 2 (not both). Gradually, focus in on a couple of articles that you think you could use as material for ideas and references.

(NB: HL students pay special attention to this, as later in the course, when we address Written Task 2, we will be doing exactly this kind of activity).

Essay Material

Then, try to answer the following question:

The Internet is often seen as a tool for enabling freedom of information. However, it could also be an equally effective tool in the hands of those who wish to control information. What do you think?

You may do this either in essay form or as a persuasive speech. We will talk about each of these options in class first before you begin. Watch Veracross for details. 

Further Oral Activity 

To turn this into a Further Oral Activity, follow these instructions:

– In groups of 4, choose which two of you will argue that the Internet is tool for freedom, and which two will argue that it is a tool for control.

– Choose the precise focus (or motion): will you all argue that the Internet is a tool for freedom or control, or will you take it one step further and argue that governments and/or corporations should or should not control the Internet? Make sure all four of you are agreed and clear on what the precise focus of you debate will be.

– Then work in pairs (freedom pair and control pair): plan out your main points and the case studies you will use to support your arguments, and divide them between you. You may also add a few ideas that argue against what the other team might say, but this is a more minor part of your speeches.

– Write your speeches! They should be informative (showing off your knowledge and understanding of the issue) and persuasive (showing off your knowledge and understanding of the conventions and techniques of debate speeches).

– Watch Veracross for the deadlines for this activity.


Here you can read about what finally happened to Bradley Manning. Whistleblower or traitor? That question could result in a Further Oral Activity!


What would George Orwell have to say about all this? Click here.

What if you controlled the internet?


Task 2

Look at the cartoon below. The man on the floor being tickled is the Prime Minister of the UK, the man with slippers in his teeth is the British cabinet minister for Culture and Media. But who is the man in the chair? And what is this cartoon saying?

To learn a little more about the man in the chair, and one of the companies he owns, we will watch the documentary film ‘Outfoxed’. As you watch, you will need to make notes on the major points the film brings up; these will help you in the final task below. While watching the film, keep in mind that it makes serious points not only about the control of information but also about bias, which is our next sub-topic.

Below is a Pages document with sue guiding questions that you may use as your notes while watching the film. Timings are provided for those watching individually on DVD or online (the two may differ slightly).


Here is a link to a site that shows how statistics can be used to create and reinforce bias (not surprisingly, many of the examples are from FoxNews).

A result of broadcasting of propaganda is the intentional creation of false beliefs in the readers/viewers. This document shows the consequences of this.

Everything You Know Is Wrong!

See below for final assignment.


Further Oral Activity

Examples of a Further Oral Activity (that you will be assessed on in addition to your Individual Oral Presentation) include discussion and presentation. On this page, and on TV and online news, you have seen examples of both.

Taking these as your starting points, come up with a proposal – either individually or in a small group – for an activity you think might be appropriate as a Further Oral. You will need to explain your proposal in detail and get approval before you begin.

This is for practice only, and will not be formally assessed (though, once again, I will give each student a grade and a comment as an indication of how well you are doing).

If you are thinking of a news-style presentation, take notes on the habits and gestures you see in this or this spoof (parody)(vpn needed for both links) of a news broadcast.



… Remember ‘1984’!


This is the end of this sub-topic. If you have any comments please leave them below.