Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.” The bill, H.R.5736 — Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House – IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same. This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively imagined sometime over the three decades.
Modern international relations lie between peoples, not merely governments.
The above quote comes from the State Department report entitled Memorandum on the Postwar International Information Program of the United States. The report, completed in July 1945, stemmed from a growing belief in 1943 that the U.S. Government would need a peacetime information service after the war. The report captured the contemporary communication environment, discussed proposals to make access to news and information protected by international agreements, and the need to provide news services to areas commercial media could not reach.
By Alex Belida
When I worked at Voice of America, the flagship U.S. international media operation, the biggest legal problems I heard senior managers wring their hands over were possible violations of an obscure 1948 law known as the Smith-Mundt Act.
This isn’t one of those comic regulations, like “it is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in a church.”
In fact this one is pretty serious for a news organization. It states “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States.”
Found on page 7 of the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of USC College Magazine is a violation of federal law, specifically the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, as amended. This magazine contains a quote from the Voice of America, a US Government broadcaster that is not permitted to be disseminated within the territory of the US (see image at right). Concern over USIA and US Government broadcasters like VOA led the DC Circuit court in 1998 to exempt USIA from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Think of the damage Wikileaks could have caused if it was around in the 1990s to “expose” Americans to VOA!
The following is Part II of a discussion between Jeremy Berkowitz and Matt Armstrong on Jeremy’s paper “Raising the Iron Curtain on Twitter: why the United States must revise the Smith-Mundt Act to improve public diplomacy” (PDF, 415kb). Part I is Matt Armstrong’s initial response to Jeremy’s paper available here. My response to the below, Part III, is here.
I want to thank Matt for his thoughts on my paper. I appreciate his comments and strongly respect his scholarship on the Smith-Mundt Act. I would like to discuss a few of the ideas he raised in his critique. I believe some of his criticism is well-founded and I could have more precisely conveyed my ideas in certain areas. Yet, I also believe that some of his criticism is misguided either due to simple disagreements or misunderstandings of my paper.
This is the first of two parts. The second part will be a response by Jeremy Berkowitz to be posted shortly. This post will be updated with that link when it is available.
“Raising the Iron Curtain on Twitter: why the United States must revise the Smith-Mundt Act to improve public diplomacy” (PDF, 415kb) is an intelligent and thoughtful paper from law student Jeremy Berkowitz. It is a valuable contribution to the too-sparse knowledgebase of legislation that shapes much of the US Government’s engagement with the world, including Americans. Written from a legal perspective – in May 2010 Jeremy will receive a Communications Law Studies Certificate from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America – this paper delves into juridical actions related to the Smith-Mundt Act not found anywhere else. Jeremy also explores some of wrangling between the legislative and executive branch, specifically the confrontation between Senator Fulbright and US Attorney General Kleindienst. I was pleased to see his discussion on the 1998 DC Circuit Court decision in Essential Information v. United States Information Agency. In this case, the Court failed to distinguish “dissemination” and “disclosure”, ruling that “it seems unlikely that these two terms were meant to bear different meanings.”
According to the Voice of America, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates endorses the recent report – Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan – authored by Major General Michael Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor. However, according to VOA, the SecDef took issue with the report being published by CNAS.
Below is the report on the Smith-Mundt Symposium of January 13, 2009. Subtitled “A Discourse to Shape America’s Discourse”, it was a frank and open discussion across a diverse group of stakeholders, practitioners, and observers from Congress, the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and outside of government, many of whom never had a reason to be in the same room with one another before. Ostensibly on the law that authorized what we now call public diplomacy, it was really a way to foster an interagency, public‐private, and inter‐tribal discussion was on the purpose, structure, and direction of America’s global engagement. The report has been online since April. It is republished at Scribd for greater attention and comment. Please contribute your comments below.
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 is the authorizing legislation for America’s public diplomacy and strategic communication. This three-page information sheet addresses confusion surrounding the Act and makes recommendations that are fundamental to any improvement to US public diplomacy and strategic communication. It is ironic that legislation intended to counter misinformation is itself subject to misinformation to the point few know the Act’s purpose and true application.
The following is a short three page overview written at the request of and for a (pro bono) client who is neither the State Department nor the Defense Department. Download here or read below or at Scribd.
For Americans, “influence” or “persuasion” in the context of foreign affairs is unseemly and even distasteful. While it is the responsibility – the requirement even – of a democratic leader to marshal and manage public opinion behind an issue or a platform, we have an uneasy relationship with this concept in the area of foreign affairs.
Using carefully selected words for carefully selected audiences, leveraging social media, traditional media, and personal engagement to build support for an issue are the hallmarks of political campaigns. Whether running for office or pushing legislation, politicians and their advisors explore the psychology of constituents to push emotional buttons to influence and mobilize audiences.