On Propaganda and The Role of Communications, Marketing, and PR in Government

Knowledge is generally "situated" based on your biases, your politics, your culture, etc. For example the general discourse is rife with classism, sexism, racism, and colonialism that you don't really notice if you are in the privileged group. 
(If you consider how CNN vs. Fox vs. MSNBC cover the exact same news - what headlines they write - who delivers it - what is considered news in the first place and what is buried - it starts to shake out pretty clearly.)
That said I think propaganda-free CIVIL SERVICE is achievable through the mechanisms you described - peer review and transparency to the public. That is why I am such a strong proponent of 1) social media and 2) open government - the publication of valuable data sets is so incredibly critical to government work.
For the first time in history we can remove the curtain between what we say (the conclusion) and how we got to that. So whatever bias is in the conclusion is eroded as the public hacks away at the content asking "how did you get that number?" and "why?"
Here are some examples: You don't just report on the...
  • # of drug seizures
  • # of adverse reactions to a drug
  • # of complaints
...You provide a way for people to sort the information and mash it up so as to analyze it further. 
You also explain the method by which you arrived at those numbers, and you discuss their limitations - not in your opinion but in the opinion of a third party whose job it is to look over your shoulder at your process.
I think marketing and PR firms do have the potential to play an important role in government communications and we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. However but the functions should be clearly defined and distinguished from one another, maybe like this:
  1. Communication - straight content, substance, plain English, detailed information, organized in a way that is useful for consumption by audiences at varying levels of understanding. Bilingual, trilingual, however many languages are needed to reach the appropriate audience. Accessible. 
  2. Marketing - outreach campaigns that are specifically labeled as such and not used for political campaigning purposes
  3. PR - correct the record against false statements; manage crises by disseminating accurate information effectively; get principals in front of employees, Congressional staffers, community groups, industry groups, the media etc. to clearly convey what the policies of the agency are.
Good luck!

(Originally published as a comment on GovLoop.com - May 2, 2012)