The truth, nothing but the truth and, as near as possible, the whole truth.
—Sir John Reith (British Minister of Information,  1940)
Propaganda is invariably associated with solely pejorative associations. The
word often implies something sinister—synonyms frequently include “lies,”
“deceit,” and “brainwashing.” Although propaganda is thousands of years old,
it came of age in the 20th century. The development of mass and multimedia
offered a fertile ground for propaganda, and the century’s global conflicts pro-
vided the impetus needed for its growth. As electorates and audiences have
become more sophisticated, they have begun to question the use of propa-
ganda in history and its role in contemporary society. However, “propaganda”
has become a portmanteau word, which can be interpreted in a number of
different ways. Despite the controversy over definition, the subject continues
to grow and attract widespread interest. With rapidly changing technology,
definitions of propaganda have also undergone changes.
Propaganda has meant different things at different times, although clearly the
scale on which it has been practiced has increased in the 20th century. What
are the characteristic features of propaganda, and how can it be defined? The
origin of the word “propaganda” can be traced back to the Reformation, when
the spiritual and ecclesiastic unity of Europe was shattered, and the medieval
Roman Church lost its hold on the Northern countries. During the ensuring
struggle between forces of Protestantism and those of the counter-Reformation,
the Roman Catholic Church found itself faced with the problem of maintaining
and strengthening its hold in the non-Catholic countries. Commission of
Cardinals was set up by Gregory XIII (1572–1585) was charged with spreading
Catholicism and regulating ecclesiastical affairs in heathen lands. generation
later, when the Thirty Years War had broken out, Gregory XV in 1622 made the
commission permanent, as the Sacra Congregatio de propaganda fide (Congrega-
tion for the Propagation of the Faith); it was charged with the management of
foreign missions and financed by a “ring tax” assessed on each newly appointed
cardinal. Finally, in 1627, Urban VII established the Collegium Urbanum or
College of Propaganda to serve as a training ground for a new generation of
Catholic propagandists and to educate young priests who were to undertake
such missions. The first propagandist institute was, therefore, simply a body
charged with improving the dissemination of a group of religious dogmas. The
word “propaganda” soon came to be applied to any organization set up for the
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