The American propagandist and “father of spin” Edward Bernays famously argued that the propaganda efforts which had been so important to the success of the U.S. wartime effort could be equally applied during times of peace and stable government.
If you follow me on Twitter or stay plugged into the day’s online news feeds, you may already be familiar with the case of Citizenship & Immigration Canada’s fake oath-taking event. If not, CIC staffers, under pressure from the Minister’s office and in cahoots with producers at the Conservative-friendly Sun TV News, orchestrated a make-believe citizenship ceremony for “new Canadians”. The problem is that the majority of the so-called new citizens who attended the event to take their oaths were actually government bureaucrats.
There are two immediately striking observations to be made here: the first is to question the effort and expense paid by a government department (on the taxpayer’s dime, no less) to organize a media event that was more focused on the production of an image–no matter the substance–than the celebration of real citizenship. That they would do so for a news network that draws very meagre ratings makes it all the more puzzling.
More importantly, how in the world could the CIC’s senior communications staff (and SunTV producers, for that matter) not have known that this would blow back, making them look either stupid or manipulative? The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), which oversees emergency response in the United States, did almost the exact same thing several years ago during the California wild fires and got called out for its efforts in the national media. Either the CIC’s communication strategists didn’t know about the FEMA case or they chose to ignore it. Beyond the unethical nature of the behaviour, neither ignorance or bliss is an acceptable defense when you’re paid to act like a professional.
The Conservative government already has a reputation for relentless information management. Events like the fake oath-swearing ceremony irritate and agitate the national media, with whom the Tories already have strained relations, not to mention the Twitterati who kept the event trending for most of today. More importantly, events like this one reinforce in the minds of citizens–especially non-supporters–that this is a government for whom spin control has become the norm in communicative practice. While it’s unlikely to have any kind of long-term effects on its own, this event now joins others (and here) in the growing case file of Tory propaganda.