Included in the passage of the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was an interesting addendum updating the law that governs America’s public diplomacy efforts.
The passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization act as part of the NDAA removes the restriction on the State Department and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) banning the broadcast or distribution of materials produced for overseas consumption inside the US. This is NOT the equivalent of passing a law approving the production of propaganda for domestic use. These materials must be produced for use overseas, and not made for a domestic audience.
Even if this passage meant that Americans could potentially be “propagandized” by their own government, so what? In reality, Americans could already access a great deal of these broadcasts through the internet. And as Heritage’s Helle Dale points out, it is ironic that Americans could legally access the broadcasts of foreign nations, but not our own.
Ultimately, this is good news for the people of the United States, opening up our nation’s public diplomacy for more oversight and allowing us to better understand what is being “said” in the name of the American people. This creates transparency, and gives the American people and Congress the ability to better understand how public diplomacy is being conducted by the State Department and the BBG.
Inevitably, this will lead to the discovery of reporting by American news outlets such as Voice of America or Alhurra that is not necessarily flattering to U.S. policy. Yet in the course of providing objective, credible news, it is vital that we do not restrict our overseas broadcasters from reporting on the truth, even when it may not initially appear beneficial to the U.S.
Consistent and accurate reporting helps establish these outlets as a credible, trusted messengers, ultimately reducing the damage of potential disinformation by our enemies and helping to build trust relationships between the U.S. and foreign audiences. While those Americans who choose to view these broadcasts will likely find things that upset them, it is crucial that this oversight be used to ensure accurate and truthful reporting, and not merely used to weed out those stories we simply “don’t like.”