With repeal of the Smith-Mundt domestic dissemination ban, de jure catches up with de facto.

Posted: 11 Jan 2013   Print   Send a link
Voice of America press release, 4 Jan 2013: "Voice of America will soon be able to make its programs available to the U.S. public following passage of new legislation signed by President Obama Wednesday. The legislation, which is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, eliminates the longstanding ban on domestic distribution of VOA programs that was part of the original U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (known as Smith-Mundt). In the coming months, Voice of America and other U.S. international broadcasters will draft regulations governing how they will fulfill domestic requests for release of original programs and materials. The legislation will not change the focus of the agency’s broadcasts, which are aimed exclusively at international audiences. The new rules will only affect programs broadcast after July 1st, 2013."

BBG Strategy, 4 Jan 2013: "As content offerings grew, so did requests for that content from a rising number of U.S.-based ethnic broadcasters serving diaspora populations. Under the domestic dissemination ban, those requests, which ranged from Sudanese broadcasters in Minnesota to Cuban community broadcasters in Miami, were officially denied. The truth is, however, that many ethnic broadcasters used them regardless. As internet distribution became available, keeping a lid on BBG content in the U.S. became even more difficult. The BBG could certainly geocode the content to prevent U.S. audiences from accessing it, but censoring the internet in a country with a founding tenet of freedom of the press was seen as a non-starter." -- This "non-starter" was the obvious way to adhere to domestic dissemination ban, had the BBG chosen to observe the ban. Moot point now.

Heritage Foundation, 9 Jan 2013, Helle Dale: "Incongruously for a country founded on democratic values and freedom of expression, Americans have until now been banned from accessing information and programming produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for foreign publics—as though it was too toxic for domestic consumption. With the new revision, programming may be broadcast in the United States, though it may not be specifically produced for American consumption. ... The consequences have been unfortunate anomalies. Americans are now able to access via cable television the programs of government broadcasters from around the world: China’s CCTV, Russia Today, the BBC World Service, and France 1, to name a few. But Voice of America and the government’s other broadcasting units remained off-limits. At the same time, Congress has not been able to perform proper oversight, having Smith–Mundt conflicts cited to them by State Department and BBG lawyers. The BBG is famous for its defiance of congressional directives, and mismanagement of its services has been rampant.

The Heritage Foundation serves an important research function. When someone reads an essay at the Heritage website, he/she must then do research to learn what the facts really are. The fact here is that all Americans always had access to everything in all the websites of all the BBG entities. And I'm not aware of any content of US public diplomacy websites being blocked within the United States. Furthermore, I would be stupefied if any member of Congress had ever been denied access to USIB content in the name of Smith-Mundt.

American Security Project, 10 Jan 2013, Matthew Wallin "This is NOT the equivalent of passing a law approving the production of propaganda for domestic use. These materials must be produced for use overseas, and not made for a domestic audience. ... Ultimately, this is good news for the people of the United States, opening up our nation’s public diplomacy for more oversight and allowing us to better understand what is being 'said' in the name of the American people. This creates transparency, and gives the American people and Congress the ability to better understand how public diplomacy is being conducted by the State Department and the BBG. Inevitably, this will lead to the discovery of reporting by American news outlets such as Voice of America or Alhurra that is not necessarily flattering to U.S. policy. Yet in the course of providing objective, credible news, it is vital that we do not restrict our overseas broadcasters from reporting on the truth, even when it may not initially appear beneficial to the U.S."

Sabith Khan, 7 Jan 2013, Sabith Khan: "While the intent of the act seems to be to counter the propaganda of Al-Qaeda and other groups intent on false anti-American propaganda, the logic of 'countering fire with fire' seems a bit far-fetched. The American public is getting wiser, and one hopes that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not spent on propaganda campaigns." -- It is actually the writer's explanation of the repeal of domestic dissemination ban that is "far-fetched."

Blogger News Network, 3 Jan 2013, Ted Lipien, citing BBG Watch: “'There will be a very strong pressure on the part of the BBG government bureaucracy to focus on the domestic U.S. media market to increase their audience. Over the years, the BBG bureaucracy grew while international news programs and the number of journalists and international experts declined. Government bureaucrats will feel more comfortable doing business with people like themselves, people they know,' [Ted] Lipien said."

Another advantage of the repeal that I forgot to mention in the previous post is that USIB can now barter content with US domestic news organizations. For example, VOA could exchange its coverage of its target countries for a US news outlet's coverage of the United States.