The U.S. government spends about $700 million a year to produce and broadcast articles, reports and commentary designed to reflect credit on itself and aimed at foreign audiences. Until July 1, it was not allowed to beam these products at Americans living in the United States. As a sponsor of the ban said, the government should not be allowed to aim its propaganda at U.S. citizens and taxpayers.
That has all changed. Thanks to a law signed by President Obama last January, the ban on domestic dissemination of the products of the agency that oversees the government’s huge propaganda effort came to an end at the beginning of this month.
The name of that agency is the “independent” Broadcasting Board of Governors or BBG. It may smack of paranoia to suggest that the initials really stand for Big Brother Government, but there is real cause for concern.
To begin, the board is not truly independent. Its members are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. There are supposed to be four from each major political party, plus the serving Secretary of State. That means that there will always be a tilt in favor of the policies of the White House. As it happens, today the position of board chairman is vacant, along with four other seats, leaving governance of the board to only four members, one of whom is Secretary of State John Kerry.
This board sets policy for the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sava), Radio Free Asia and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti). This list of names identifies a clear tilt in content and makes it clear that however skilled (and many are) the employees of these networks may be they are by no means independent journalists.
For the past four years the board has discretely lobbied Congress to lift the ban on domestic distribution of its products, arguing that cable and the Internet already allow interested communities in the United States to access its broadcasts. It says lifting the ban improves “transparency” and allows citizens to see what they are paying for.
These are disingenuous arguments. It may not be possible to physically ban Americans from having access to the BBG’s line of goods, but it is quite another thing to say it may open shop here.
Every day of the year we see American politicians of all stripes demonstrate their overriding concern for political power and winning elections by “spinning” facts their way. Giving the White House control, however indirectly, of a major broadcasting operation aimed at a domestic audience is an invitation for abuse.
It is asking for trouble.
The ban on domestic distribution of BBG’s products should be restored by Congress as quickly as possible.