The Controversy Surrounding Bill HR 4310 – Does It Give The News Media Freedom To Disseminate Propaganda To The American People?

by Pamela Williams
H.R. 4310 passed into law when it was signed by the President Obama on Jan 2, 2013.  There is an ongoing controversy surrounding the Bill. I want to start this report with a video: Congressman Dennis Kucinich opposes H.R. 4310 – National Defense Authorization Act for 2013.

However, Kucinich does not oppose it for the reason that most people are against it.  Many people feel it legalized the use of propaganda on American audiences.  It is being said it allowed the material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon to strike the ban that had been in place on domestic dissemination of propaganda.
In layman’s terms the news media/government can broadcast propaganda to the American people as they please.  However, I will leave it to the reader to make the judgment him/her self.  However, it has been signed into place, and there is nothing that can be done about it at this time.  
The greatest worry is that the the Bill essentially neutralized two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from their  own government’s misinformation campaigns.
I, myself, do not trust the government period, so this does not affect my beliefs to any great degree.  I take most of what they say as propaganda.
 
Here is the simplified description of the amendment:
Amendment No. 114—Reps. Thornberry (R-TX) and Smith (D-WA):The amendment would amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (known as the Smith-Mundt Act) and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987 to clarify the authorities of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to prepare, disseminate and use public diplomacy information abroad and to strike the current ban on domestic dissemination of such material. The amendment would clarify that the Smith-Mundt Act’s provisions related to public diplomacy information do not apply to other federal departments or agencies (including the DoD).
 
What most people refer to as “propaganda material”, the amendment refers to as “public diplomacy information.” The text of the amendment to Bill H.R. 4310 was a difficult to track down, but here it is  with the  change that concerns so many:
AMENDMENT NO. 114 OFFERED BY MR. THORNBERRY OF TEXAS
At the end of title X, add the following new section:
SEC. 10__. DISSEMINATION ABROAD OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE UNITED STATES.
(a) United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.–Section 501 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1461) is amended to read as follows:
“GENERAL AUTHORIZATION
“Sec. 501. (a) The Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are authorized to use funds appropriated or otherwise made available for public diplomacy information programs to provide for the preparation, dissemination, and use of information intended for foreign audiences abroad about the United States, its people, and its policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, and other information media, including social media, and through information centers, instructors, and other direct or indirect means of communication.
“(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors may, upon request and reimbursement of the reasonable costs incurred in fulfilling such a request, make available, in the United States, motion pictures, films, video, audio, and other materials prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad pursuant to this Act, the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), or the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). The Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall issue necessary regulations–
“(A) to establish procedures to maintain such material;
“(B) for reimbursement of the reasonable costs incurred in fulfilling requests for such material; and
“(C) to ensure that the persons seeking release of such material have secured and paid for necessary United States rights and licenses.
“(2) With respect to material prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012–
“(A) the Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall make available to the Archivist of the United States, for domestic distribution, motion pictures, films, videotapes, and other material 12 years after the initial dissemination of the material abroad; and
“(B) the Archivist shall be the official custodian of the material and shall issue necessary regulations to ensure that persons seeking its release in the United States have secured and paid for necessary United States rights and licenses and that all costs associated with the provision of the material by the Archivist shall be paid by the persons seeking its release, in accordance with paragraph (3).
“(3) The Archivist may charge fees to recover the costs described in paragraph (2), in accordance with section 2116 (c) of title 44. Such fees shall be paid into, administered, and expended as part of the National Archives Trust Fund.
“(c) Nothing in this section may be construed to require the Secretary or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to make material disseminated abroad available in any format other than in the format disseminated abroad.”.
(b) Rule of Construction.–Nothing in this section may be construed to affect the allocation of funds appropriated or otherwise made specifically available for public diplomacy.
(c) Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987.–Section 208 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987 (22 U.S.C. 1461-1a) is amended to read as follows:
“SEC. 208. CLARIFICATION ON DOMESTIC DISTRIBUTION OF PROGRAM MATERIAL.
“(a) In General.–No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States. This section shall apply only to programs carried out pursuant to the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.), the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), and the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). This section shall not prohibit or delay the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from providing information about its operations, policies, programs, or program material, or making such available, to the media, public, or Congress, in accordance with other applicable law.
 
THE FOLLOWING IS THE CHANGE:
“(b) Rule of Construction.–Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure. Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437),
 
except that nothing in this section may be construed to authorize the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to disseminate within the United States any program material prepared for dissemination abroad on or before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.
“(c) Application.–The provisions of this section shall apply only to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors and to no other department or agency of the Federal Government.”.
(d) Conforming Amendments.–The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 is amended–
(1) in section 502 (22 U.S.C. 1462)–
(A) by inserting “and the Broadcasting Board of Governors” after “Secretary”; and
(B) by inserting “or the Broadcasting Board of Governors” after “Department”; and
(2) in section 1005 (22 U.S.C. 1437), by inserting “and the Broadcasting Board of Governors” after “Secretary” each place it appears.
(e) Effective Date.–This section shall take effect and apply on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this section.
www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/1461-1a
 
THE FOLLOWING IS THE ORIGINAL THAT WAS REPLACED:
Except as provided in section 1461 of this title and this section, no funds authorized to be appropriated to the United States Information Agency shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States, and no program material prepared by the United States Information Agency shall be distributed within the United States. This section shall not apply to programs carried out pursuant to the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2451 et seq.). The provisions of this section shall not prohibit the United States Information Agency from responding to inquiries from members of the public about its operations, policies, or programs.
 
IT DOES ALLOW THE MATERIAL TO BE DISSEMINATED WITHIN THE US:
Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437),
 
Source: www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr4310/text
 
The ACLU has this to says:  www.aclu.org/blog/new-government-propaganda-bill-positive-step-first-amendment?redirect=blog/free-speech/new-government-propaganda-bill-positive-step-first-amendment
Much of the support for the Thornberry-Smith Amendment has focused on the fact that modern technology (and especially the Internet) renders the ban largely ineffective.  For instance, it’s a simple matter to download VOA material, even though doing so is technically a violation of the law.
 
From a First Amendment perspective, however, the ban is both highly paternalistic and a nightmare for government transparency.  As noted, State- and BBG-produced material are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.  And there are less restrictive means available than an outright ban to ensure that the State Department and BBG are not turned into organs of a domestic government propaganda machine.  We should trust that the American public will be able to take government public diplomacy communications with a sufficient grain of salt to prevent undue influence.
 
Further, the current ban applies only to the State Department and the BBG.  Other agencies—such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy—frequently produce public and media relations materials that are intended to promote their missions and accomplishments.  The current ban just on State and the BBG is obsolete and outmoded (especially in light of the existing legal checks on covert propaganda, which does pose a danger of misleading the American public).
 
That said, the Thornberry-Smith Amendment could use two clarifying modifications.  First, it should strengthen checks on communications originating at the State Department to further preserve objectivity, impartiality and to prevent the State Department’s public diplomacy agencies and bureaus (and especially the BBG) from being captured by any particular viewpoint or faction in government.  Second, BBG- or State-produced material that is disseminated in the United States should be identified as government communications, and should provide the recipient the context needed to judge the impartiality and accuracy of the material in question.
 
To be clear, the ACLU has no problem with laws that prevent the government from using taxpayer funds to covertly influence public opinion (including, for instance, the ban on covert propaganda that is included as a matter of course in annual appropriations bills).  The problem with the existing ban is that it denies Americans the ability to even access government communications.  This is therefore more a question of government transparency and accountability than government propaganda, and the ban should be dispensed with.
 
This is really a good video:

 
It is also recent.
 
In conclusion, I am undecided about the gravity of this, because I am not at all surprised with anything the government does.  However, the woman in the video above makes so much sense.