Factual NBC report on lifting Smith-Mundt propaganda ban generates many comments from irate U.S. taxpayers

BBG Watch Commentary

'On Assignment' hosts, Imran Siddiqui and Alex Villarreal, as they talk to the VOA journalists and producers covering the top news stories. But BBG Watch comments: current and former Voice of America journalists report that there are fewer and fewer VOA reporters left, employee morale is at its record low under the current VOA and IBB management. Original news coverage has been greatly diminished. Many of VOA's top news stories are short news times from Reuters because VOA can no longer afford to do original reporting. -- Comments from BBG Watch

Elizabeth Chuck, a staff writer for NBC News, wrote a good, factual report on the lifting of the Smith-Mundt Act’s restrictions on government propaganda in the U.S.

Taxpayer money at work: US-funded foreign broadcasts finally available in the US, by Elizabeth Chuck, Staff Writer, NBC News, July 20,2013.

“News consumers in the U.S. can now hear and watch reports from one of the largest broadcasting groups in the world — after decades of their taxpayer dollars funding them.

The change is due to a law, which went into effect on July 2, that authorizes an independent network of U.S. government-supported broadcasters called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to transmit their programs — which include Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting — to U.S. households.”

NBC’s Elizabeth Chuck quoted Lynne Weil, director of communications and external affairs for BBG, as saying “Just because a news organization receives government funding doesn’t mean it disseminates propaganda.” Weil cited Britain’s BBC as a government-supported media outlet.

Unlike many other U.S. media reporting on this story, NBC correctly noted that news content from the Voice of America had been available online for years. It should also be added that it had been perfectly legal before for U.S. media to rebroadcast VOA programs if they could get them on their own from the Internet or satellites. The new law, the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, gives government official permission and power to distribute these programs in the United States. They could not do this under the new law and wanted it very badly.

The question is, of course, why?

NBC’s report quotes Ted Lipien, a former Voice of America associate director who was in charge of English news and many other non-English news programs, who hit the nail on the head. International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials and top Voice of America executives have largely destroyed VOA’s capacity to originate news, especially in English, for overseas audiences.

But IBB and VOA executives do have grandiose ideas of turning U.S. international media into a BBC-like domestic broadcaster, presumably to generate greater U.S. domestic support for VOA’s, IBB’s and BBG’s budget.

If these IBB and VOA bureaucrats would just read a few comments from readers under Elizabeth Chuck’s article, they should realize quickly that they have been deceiving themselves and BBG members.

We will post what Ted Lipien said to NBC News, followed by a few comments from readers of the NBC News report.

“Ted Lipien, a former Voice of America employee based in California who retired from the network in 2006, said his biggest concern about BBG expanding into the American market was the quality of their journalism diminishing.

‘The agency has been very badly mismanaged in recent years,’ he said. ‘What I suspect will happen is that they will de-emphasize providing news and information for foreign audiences, which is their core and primary mission, and they will focus on the domestic market.'”

Ted Lipien has also said elsewhere that International Broadcasting Bureau officials have badly damaged Voice of America’s reputation and bipartisan support for VOA’s overseas mission by their poorly-conceived, poorly-executed, and poorly-presented push for congressional modification of the Smith-Mundt propaganda ban. Irate comments from U.S. taxpayers under NBC News article seem to more than confirm his observation. Here are some examples:

$752.7 million bucks, DOWN THE DRAIN I THINK!!!

Never heard of it and never knew my tax dollars were headed here….Geeez, like we can afford it.

Aztlan: “I wish they were spending their own money.”

Its budget for the 2012 fiscal year, fully funded by taxpayers, was $752.7 million, according to a spokeswoman.

Oh, you extortionist sociopaths…why am I even surprised?

I guess the government is going full throttle to brainwash us with propaganda using our own tax money. Has been telling BS to the rest of developing world how great we are.

they do good work from what I’ve seen. I use voa online but my concern is the cost – $752 MILLION?!? did I read that right? uh fellas, can we lower that down a Romney or two? hoe about $300 million and I’ll spring for breakfast?

With sequestration and furloughs going, I think this is irresponsible. There are real Americans who are losing 20% of their pay until September, and they approve this????? Wrong answer Congress and Mr. President. I guess the fact that they have been deadlocked on just about everything else makes them happy to get anything passed at all.

International Broadcasting Bureau and top Voice of America officials have achieved three things:

With their push for the modification of the Smith-Mundt Act, IBB and VOA officials have seriously undermined Voice of America’s reputation and reputation of its journalists by triggering countless U.S. media reports which falsely link VOA to government propaganda. It does not matter that these conclusions are misguided and wrong, this is what Americans are now reading about VOA.

With their poor handling of this whole issue from the very beginning, IBB and VOA officials have opened Voice of America and other U.S. international broadcasters to ridicule, as in this Huffington Post satirical article, Big Brother Speaks!, Lester & Charlie, Huffington Post, July 18, 2013.

Because the of massive negative media publicity, IBB and VOA officials have caused U.S. taxpayers to question the funding for VOA and other U.S. international broadcasters.

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