Despite their statements that they will not propagandize Americans, IBB officials must be closely watched

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG LogoWhile BBG Watch would like to believe Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) assurances that it will not propagandize Americans and will not divert resources from international outreach to domestic outreach with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, we have little faith in the agency’s executives. We have no reason to believe that current BBG members have any intention to steer the agency in the wrong direction on this issue, but even they seem unable to control the dysfunctional bureaucracy.

International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff currently in charge of the agency cannot be trusted and needs to be carefully watched unless it is replaced. Even then, risks to civil liberties to Americans are too great under the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act. The agency, particularly IBB management, will need far grater public and congressional scrutiny than it has received so far. IBB executives have been resisting calls for transparency and accountability. The BBG board needs more powers from Congress to reestablish control over IBB to prevent possible abuses of the new law.

IBB executives have resorted to using numerous half-truths and misleading statements and examples to get the Congress to remove the domestic propaganda ban in the old Smith-Mundt Act. They repeatedly implied that Americans and American media were not able to use Voice of America (VOA) and other programs before the law changed if they got them on their own from the Internet or satellite, even though it was both possible and legal under the old Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.

IBB officials also used a highly misleading and disturbing example from the point of view of potential profiling and targeting of specific groups of Americans when they repeatedly implied that a Somali radio station in Minnesota was unable to rebroadcast VOA Somali programs under the old law.

In fact, the Somali station could have rebroadcast these programs by downloading them from the Internet. Under the old law, U.S. government officials could not contact the station or to assist in providing programs and marketing them to Americans.

Critics believe that choosing the Somali example was designed to pray on religious and ethnic prejudices and fears to get the ban on domestic news distribution by the U.S. government overturned.

Even in their posted FAQ about the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials are vague and misleading in answering some of the questions.

For example, IBB officials do not fully answer their question whether Americans can in fact get and use programs on their own without contacting them and getting permission. In fact, Americans can get these programs on their own without requesting them and can reuse them subject to copyrights and other laws. Americans have always had that right even under the old Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. IBB officials stress “broadcast quality” as an important factor, which may apply mostly to some television programs. Much of VOA audio, online video and text can be downloaded from the Internet.


Q.  Wasn’t this content already available in the United States via the Internet or other means, and isn’t it still available without having to be requested?

A. It is true that some, but not all, of our broadcasters’ content has been and will continue to be accessible on the Internet, via shortwave radio (depending on signal quality and availability) or on TV outlets where the international footprint for our programs is accessible in this country. However, that makes up only a fraction of the content created by our broadcasters each year. Now our broadcasters can make this material available upon request in broadcast quality. Requesters are obliged to secure U.S. broadcast rights and permissions for any third-party copyrighted content that may be contained in BBG programming.

Past behavior of some of the IBB, VOA and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) executives also calls for extreme caution and scrutiny in how they handle the Smith-Mundt Modernization. BBG employees and their union accuse some of these officials of mistreating staff, exploiting contract employees and retaliating against their critics, including VOA and OCB reporters, as well as independent American journalists publishing articles critical of the agency’s top management.

Officials who refuse to answer legitimate questions from journalists and attack them for pointing out management problems, try to deprive an independent American reporter of his press credentials, get the lowest management and employee morale scores (OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey) in the entire federal government, prolong hardships and suffering of illegally RIFed OCB broadcasters by refusing to honor legal orders to reinstate them, and who issue numerous misleading statements addressed to Congress and American public simply cannot be trusted not to violate Americans’ civil rights with their handling of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act. They must be closely watched. This is especially critical since IBB officials ignore members of their oversight board and ignore public opinion.

BBG Watch will continue to report on and monitor how IBB officials behave.

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From the BBG official website:

(Links will bring you to the BBG website to check for the latest updates on this information.)

Smith-Mundt

Facts About Smith-Mundt Modernization


The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the media organizations that it supports can now make their content available in broadcast quality upon request within the United States.  This is due to a law that went into effect on July 2, 2013, amending the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, known as the Smith-Mundt Act.  Amending Smith-Mundt for this purpose was part of the strategic plan adopted in 2011 by the governing board overseeing the BBG.

Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) and Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), co-sponsored the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, which was introduced in 2010 and made part of a larger piece of legislation in 2012.

The new law will let people across America see and hear the valuable news reported by the BBG’s accomplished journalists.  It takes into account modern content platforms that are not restricted by national boundaries, such as the Internet, mobile delivery and satellite broadcasting.

The modernization of Smith-Mundt will facilitate global connectivity and audience engagement and will provide greater transparency into publicly-funded broadcasting.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the new law.


Q.  Can the BBG now focus its broadcasting on the United States?

A.  No. There has been no change to the BBG’s enabling statute, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, which authorizes the agency to create programs for foreign audiences. The BBG is not authorized to begin broadcasting or to create programming for audiences in the United States. We do not seek to change that. The BBG continues to focus on overseas audiences.

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Q.  So what does the new law allow that wasn’t allowed before?

A. The new legislation eases Smith-Mundt restrictions and allows the agency and its broadcasters to respond positively to requests from within the United States for their content.  Much, but not all, of this programming is now available online.  Additionally, the BBG can consider domestic requests for ongoing subscriptions if doing so falls within the agency’s mission and other statutory authorities.

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Q.  How can these materials be requested?

A: Requests for use of program content should be made through individual broadcasters. Please see this fact sheet for detailed instructions.

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Q.  Wasn’t this content already available in the United States via the Internet or other means, and isn’t it still available without having to be requested?

A. It is true that some, but not all, of our broadcasters’ content has been and will continue to be accessible on the Internet, via shortwave radio (depending on signal quality and availability) or on TV outlets where the international footprint for our programs is accessible in this country. However, that makes up only a fraction of the content created by our broadcasters each year. Now our broadcasters can make this material available upon request in broadcast quality. Requesters are obliged to secure U.S. broadcast rights and permissions for any third-party copyrighted content that may be contained in BBG programming.

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Q.  Do you intend to target your programming to émigré communities in this country?

A.  No. Existing law does not allow the BBG to create programs for audiences in the United States, nor do we seek to do that.  But the new law does allow interested U.S. residents to access BBG content, upon request. Historically, organizations operating internationally and representatives of émigré communities – some from areas in conflict — have sought out this reliable news of their home countries and in their native languages.

The modernization of Smith-Mundt will facilitate global connectivity and audience engagement and will provide greater transparency into publicly-funded broadcasting.

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Q.  Is this an attempt to influence or propagandize US citizens?

A.  No.   Our journalists must abide by legally mandated broadcasting standards and principles to present accurate and objective news and information.  They do so in 61 languages for audiences in more than 100 countries where it is often difficult or impossible to receive locally-produced, uncensored or unbiased programs.  They provide responsible discussion and open debate in places where it is rare in the media.   To call these efforts “propaganda” is an affront to those journalists, many of whom work in some of the roughest spots in the world, putting themselves and their loved ones at great risk.

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Q.  But won’t the Defense Department now be at liberty to spread propaganda in the United States thanks to this new legislation?

A.  No. The U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 does not apply to the Defense Department, and neither do the subsequent amendments.

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Q.  What guarantees that content from the BBG is balanced and accurate?

A. BBG broadcasters are legally mandated to present accurate and objective news and information. The mission statements of our broadcasters reinforce the commitment to high-quality journalism and serving as a model of free press. All of the BBG broadcasters– Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio/TV Marti, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV & Radio Sawa) – are considered vital, objective news sources and are frequently cited by major media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostThe Miami Herald, and CNN, for their high-quality reporting on topics ranging from the tragic self-immolations in Tibet to human rights issues in Iran.  This is testament to the quality and range of reporting that our journalists produce.

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