Can Congress Make Journalists Do Propaganda?

A House bill seeks to change Voice of America from a news provider to a U.S. promoter.

Voice Of America Afghan Service broadcaster Daoud Sediqi listens to a caller during a 2009 show.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Add to Briefcase
Alex Brown
May 1, 2014, 10:57 a.m.

It’s not of­ten the U.S. gov­ern­ment tries to emu­late its Rus­si­an coun­ter­parts. But a bill cur­rently mak­ing its way through the House dir­ects a U.S.-fun­ded news out­let to mir­ror the Krem­lin’s pro­pa­ganda ma­chine.

Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in­to Ukraine has been backed with strong mes­saging, said For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Royce, and the U.S. needs to counter-mes­sage.

“The Rus­si­an pro­pa­ganda ma­chine is now in over­drive in its at­tempts to un­der­mine re­gion­al sta­bil­ity,” Royce said after the In­ter­na­tion­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Re­form Act passed his com­mit­tee. “U.S. broad­casters are com­pet­ing with a hand tied be­hind their back.”

Royce’s bill changes the mis­sion of Voice of Amer­ica, a fed­er­ally fun­ded news out­let that provides ra­dio broad­casts and In­ter­net me­dia around the globe. VOA says its mis­sion is to provide “ac­cur­ate, ob­ject­ive, and com­pre­hens­ive news,” es­pe­cially in closed so­ci­et­ies.

One gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who has worked on in­ter­na­tion­al broad­cast­ing is­sues de­scribed VOA’s role as “put­ting it­self out of busi­ness.” While it provides cit­izens with in­form­a­tion they wouldn’t oth­er­wise get, its goal is to pro­duce free and open so­ci­et­ies where VOA is no longer needed.

“[VOA is] provid­ing the news and in­form­a­tion that so­ci­et­ies lack,” said the of­fi­cial. “It op­er­ates where the me­dia doesn’t ex­ist, or where it’s con­strained, or where people don’t have ac­cess…. It cre­ates an en­vir­on­ment in which the people are em­powered, be­cause it doesn’t just dis­sem­in­ate in­form­a­tion; it cre­ates a con­ver­sa­tion.”

But Royce thinks that role needs to change. “This le­gis­la­tion makes clear that the Voice of Amer­ica mis­sion is to sup­port U.S. pub­lic dip­lomacy ef­forts,” said his re­lease.

RT, Rus­sia’s pro­pa­ganda out­let, trolled VOA in a Wed­nes­day post. “Re­form le­gis­la­tion in the House would change the lan­guage of Voice of Amer­ica’s mis­sion to de­mand ad­her­ence to U.S. for­eign policy dir­ect­ives, “¦ call­ing in­to ques­tion how much ed­it­or­i­al in­de­pend­ence Voice of Amer­ica will have left,” RT wrote.

Com­par­is­ons between VOA and Rus­sia’s pro­pa­ganda are in­furi­at­ing, said the of­fi­cial. “A pro­pa­ganda agency doesn’t spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to open up the In­ter­net,” he said, em­phas­iz­ing the agency’s ef­forts to cre­ate a free flow of in­form­a­tion — wheth­er it comes from VOA or not. “The way they framed this [le­gis­la­tion] sets VOA up to be­come a pro­pa­ganda agency, be­cause it now be­comes a mes­saging plat­form rather than a news plat­form.”

What We're Following See More »
John McCain Paid Secret Visit To Syria
7 hours ago

Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Northern Syria over the weekend during his trip abroad. McCain reportedly went "to speak with American officials and Kurdish fighters leading the charge to push ISIS militants out of Raqqa, the jihadist group’s stronghold." The trip was organized with the help of U.S. military.

Trump Budget to Call for Major Cuts
8 hours ago

"The Trump administration will deliver its first budget to Congress in mid-March, and the president confirmed Wednesday it will contain major cuts for federal agencies." The blueprint, expected to be released in mid-March, will not include the kinds of specifics usually seen in White House budgets, but rather will instruct the heads of agencies to "do more with less."

More Republicans Trust Trump than GOP Members
9 hours ago
McMaster Requires Congressional Approval
12 hours ago

Congress will need to vote on Donald Trump's pick of Lt. General H.R. McMaster to be his next national security adviser, but not for the reason you think. The position of NSA doesn't require Senate approval, but since McMaster currently holds a three-star military position, Congress will need to vote to allow him to keep his position instead of forcing him to drop one star and become a Major General, which could potentially affect his pension.

Senate Intel Looks to Preserve Records of Russian Interference
16 hours ago

"The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking to ensure that records related to Russia’s alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections are preserved as it begins investigating that country’s ties to the Trump team. The panel sent more than a dozen letters to 'organizations, agencies and officials' on Friday, asking them to preserve materials related to the congressional investigation, according to a Senate aide, who was not authorized to comment publicly. The Senate Intelligence Committee is spearheading the most comprehensive probe on Capitol Hill of Russia’s alleged activities in the elections."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.