Center for Strategic Communication

Updated February 19, 2015. Originally published December 24, 2008.

This 1953 Journalism Quarterly article by Burton Paulu entitled “Smith-Mundt Act- A legislative history” (3.7mb PDF) is a good read for anyone interested in the subject of public diplomacy, including exchanges of all kinds and international media, and the Smith-Mundt Act. It is an interesting contemporary overview of the debates over ‘public diplomacy’ immediately prior to the establishment of the United States Information Agency. The support from State for these activities had waned considerably and several former supporters of empowering State with these tools were beginning to reconsider whether the Department was capable of effectively running these programs. The debates Mr. Paulu describes have a striking resemblance to modern discussions, particularly those between 9/11 and 2010.

The United states Information and Education Exchange Act of 1948 authorized our government for the first time in its history to conduct international information and educational exchange activities on a permanent basis. The United States had developed international information services on a limited scale in World War I, and on a global scale during World War II, justifying both operations as war measures. In peacetime, however, we had always opposed government information services, although we had officially sanctioned some cultural and educational exchange activities. The passage of this legislation, therefore, marked a significant departure from traditional American policy.

With only a few exceptions all present United States Government international information and educational exchange activities are carried on under this act. Our information services include
the widely publicized Voice of America broadcasts, the news bulletins distributed abroad by the Department of State and a comprehensive motion picture program. The cultural and educational exchange work consists mainly of the operation of American reference libraries abroad, the interchange of teachers. students and specialists and the extension of financial aid to American-sponsored schools in other countries.

It is impossible to review these events without noticing parallels between them and many current developments. Some of the basic issues are still being debated: the loyalty of State Department advisers and officials; the efficiency of State Department operations; and the question of whether it is safe to expose the American people to uncensored radical opinions, especially those from abroad.

Despite Mr. Paulu’s proximity to events, there are a couple factual errors in his paper. One, for example, it that the bill was not first introduced by Chairman Sol Bloom of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 1945, as Mr. Paulu writes. It was introduced by Congressman Mundt in January 1945, revised, resubmitted by Bloom in July, and then again in October after President Truman abolishes the Office of War Information and moves several operations, and tranches of personnel, into the State Department, including shortwave broadcasting.

It is also important to put the excerpt above — ‘…and the question of whether it is safe to expose the American people to unsecured radical opinions, especially those from abroad.’ — was in the context of exchanges and not the news service authorized by the Smith-Mundt Act, which included but was not limited to shortwave broadcasting.

Download the whole article here (3.7mb PDF).