One of the ugliest things Hitler and Stalin did was to flood the news with nothing but state sponsored lies and disinformation. Now, thanks to the drastic watering down of the Smith-Mundt Act, America is once again, being intentionally exposed to government censored news.
For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S.
government's mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American
audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation
of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours
per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S.
consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic
propaganda efforts. So what just happened?
Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by
the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be
viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The
programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It's viewed in
more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights
abuses in Iran; self-immolation in Tibet; human trafficking across Asia; and
on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.
The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt
Act, a long standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times
over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William
Fulbright. In the 70s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe,
and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they "should be given the opportunity
to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics." Fulbright's
amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky
who argued that such "propaganda" should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. "from the Soviet Union
where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity."
Zorinsky and Fulbright sold their amendments on sensible
rhetoric: American taxpayers shouldn't be funding propaganda for American
audiences. So did Congress just tear down the American public's last defense
against domestic propaganda?