Fact-check: BBG can now broadcast to Americans?

The change to the governance structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act has raised some concerns that the BBG might turn inward to target American audiences through domestic broadcasting. An article at Politico, for example, stated that because of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2013, “the BBG can now broadcast in the U.S., too.” Fox’s Howard Kurtz was more accurate when he wrote that the three-year-old amendment means that the “BBG’s content can also be broadcast in the United States.” The first is not accurate, while Kurtz is slightly misleading. Here’s why.

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Thoughts about CBS Evening News going to VOA’s Steve Herman for Bangkok bombing coverage

This was originally published as an exclusive to email subscribers on August 18. It appears here following requests to forward that email and that I post it here. It remains my personal opinion.

Last night’s CBS Evening News threw to VOA’s Steve Herman to provide on-the-scene coverage of the Bangkok bombing. VOA’s video coverage of the site was broadcast by CBS with the text ‘Voice of America’ visible on the screen (a text bug, rather than VOA’s normal graphic bug). This was not a copy from the VOA website (or more precisely, the BBG affiliate system used by some 2,800 news media users around the globe where broadcast quality / HD content is available for worldwide) as CBS threw to Steve Herman by name, and Steve concluded the story by throwing it back – by name – to the CBS anchor.  Continue reading “Thoughts about CBS Evening News going to VOA’s Steve Herman for Bangkok bombing coverage”

The Smith-Mundt Act: A legislative history from 1953 by Burton Paulu

This 1953 Journalism Quarterly article by Burton Paulu entitled “Smith-Mundt Act- A legislative history” (3.7mb PDF) is an interesting and short read for anyone wanting to know more about the early discussions around the start of U.S. public diplomacy. The timing of this particular paper is interesting. Continue reading “The Smith-Mundt Act: A legislative history from 1953 by Burton Paulu”

The Brookings Institute on U.S. International Information… in 1948

“Brookings Report Sees Flaws in U.S. Information Service” was the headline on page 2 in the December 13, 1948, edition of The Washington Post. The report, Overseas Information Service of the United States Government by Charles Thomson, examined the government’s information activities during World War II, the changes immediately after, and made recommendations for the future.  Continue reading “The Brookings Institute on U.S. International Information… in 1948”

Willis Conover & Smith-Mundt, a more complete picture

Source: the second semiannual report of USIA (1954)

If you missed yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article by Doug Ramsey on Willis Conover, you should read it. The article is part of a campaign to get Mr. Conover on a U.S. postage stamp.

There was one passage from the article that stuck out to me, as anyone who knows me or knows the book I am writing (it’s nearly finished, by the way) would know it would. Here is the sentence:  Continue reading “Willis Conover & Smith-Mundt, a more complete picture”

When do we start the honest debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act?

Sardonic? Ironic? Satire? Which word best fits the the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and the realities for which public diplomacy and international broadcasting are required and operate? See my post at the Public Diplomacy Council about this. 

What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]

Also, see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

 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.

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Ambassador George Venable Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America

George Allen, Jan 1948

George Allen served as the State Department’s third Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, following William Benton and Archibald MacLeish.  MacLeish, the former Librarian of Congress, was the first office holder, when it was known as the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Public and Cultural Relations.  Benton changed the title to simply “Public Affairs.”  Throughout, however, the role was fundamentally the modern equivalent to the combined responsibilities of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.  The Assistant Secretary’s job would change several years later with the establishment of the United States Information Agency.  Allen’s comments on the purpose, and temporary nature, of the Voice of America are enlightening, especially in the modern context of the Smith-Mundt ActContinue reading “Ambassador George Venable Allen, Smith-Mundt, and the Voice of America”

A Brief History of the Smith-Mundt Act and Why Changing It Matters

USIA Director was required to submit a semi-annual review of operations. The cover above is for the review of the first half of 1963. (Source: http://dca.lib.tufts.edu/features/murrow/exhibit/usia.html)

“Modern international relations lie between peoples, not merely governments.”

— Memorandum on the Postwar International Information Program of the United States by Dr. Arthur MacMahon (July 1945)

The importance of information in international relations was already well understood by many before the end of World War II. The traditional methods of diplomacy, military, and economic levers were known to be inadequate in the new world that was emerging. The role of information was fundamental to the success of foreign affairs and critical to the development of foreign policy.  Continue reading “A Brief History of the Smith-Mundt Act and Why Changing It Matters”