State’s Inspector General and US International Broadcasting

Following up on the inspection by the State Department’s Inspector General of Al Hurra, it is worth noting that the IG is prohibited by law – the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 (PL 105-277) from analyzing the content of U.S.Government-funded broadcasts.

From the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report 105-28:

The rationale for having an arms-length distance from State is two-fold: (1) to provide ”deniability” for the State Department when foreign governments voice their complaints about specific broadcasts; and (2) to provide a ”firewall” between the Department and the broadcasters to ensure the integrity of the journalism.

Of course, no one denies that these entities are funded by the United States government. But the concepts of ”deniability” and ”firewall” have meaning. In truth, the State Department will be able to deny responsibility for a specific broadcast–because it will have denied itself the ability to affect the content of that broadcast.

It can do so because the ”firewall” will have operational meaning. Whenever a foreign government complains to a U.S. diplomat that a broadcast is inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives, that diplomat can plausibly deny that the broadcast is ”not my department,” and refer their counterpart to the Board. The Board, in turn, will exercise its oversight duties to investigate the matter, and take steps to influence overall broadcast policy, but the journalists themselves will be shielded from political interference by State Department officials.

All this is not to say that these entities are not important instruments of U.S. policy. It should go without saying that they are–and should remain so. …

The section also provides that the Inspector General of the Department of State will exercise the same authorities that it now has with regard to that Department. The section states, however, that the Inspector General ”shall respect the professional independence and integrity of all broadcasters” covered by this bill.

As David Burke, the first Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, cited the above legislation later as a success of his tenure. “I wouldn’t have tolerate [the inspector general] coming into the newsroom and telling news professionals what to write.” (Source: Alan Heil’s essential book Voice of America.)

(h/t Alan Heil)