The U.S. government's mammoth broadcasting arm has begun the "unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption," John Hudson of Foreign Policy reported on Sunday.
The content arrives with the enactment of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R- Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D- Wash.), which was inserted into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The reform effectively nullifies the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was amended in 1985 specifically to prohibit U.S. organizations from using information "to influence public opinion in the United States."
The new law enables U.S. government programming such as Voice of America (VoA) — an outlet created in 1942 to promote a positive understanding of the U.S. abroad — t0 broadcast directly to domestic audiences for the first time.
VoA and other programs are now produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which shares a "strategic communications budget" with the State Department and has an annual budget of more than $700 million.
[UPDATE 6:33 p.m.] Here's what Weil told Business Insider:
"The professional journalists around the world who are supported by the BBG are tasked with presenting accurate and objective news and information for audiences in many countries where it is difficult or impossible to receive locally-produced, uncensored or unbiased programs. They provide responsible discussion and open debate in places where this is rare in the media. To call these efforts ‘propaganda’ is a misuse of the term and an affront to our journalists, many of whom put themselves at great risk for this work."
A former U.S. government source explained that the BBG can now reach local radio stations in the U.S., meaning that the programming can target expat communities such as the significant Somali population in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Those people can get Al-Shabaab, they can get Russia Today, but they couldn't get access to their taxpayer-funded news sources like VoA Somalia*," the source told FP. "It was silly."
An alternative function was detailed last year by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a highly-respected officer who released a critical report regarding the distortion of truth by senior military officials in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Davis stated that the effective repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act is a strategic move in influencing U.S. public perception in regards to the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
He cites Colonel Richard B. Leap, who recommends that lawmakers "specifically address all prior legislation beginning with the Smith-Mundt Act that is limiting the effectiveness of Information organizations in the GWOT environment."
From Lt. Col. Davis:
In context, Colonel Leap is implying we ought to change the law to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to "protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will."
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 appears to serve this purpose by allowing for the American public to be a target audience of U.S. government-funded information campaigns.
Davis also quotes Brigadier General Ralph O. Baker — the Pentagon officer responsible for the Department of Defense’s Joint Force Development — who defines Information Operations as activities undertaken to "shape the essential narrative of a conflict or situation and thus affect the attitudes and behaviors of the targeted audience."
Brig. Gen. Baker goes on to equate descriptions of combat operations with the standard marketing strategy of repeating something until it is accepted:
For years, commercial advertisers have based their advertisement strategies on the premise that there is a positive correlation between the number of times a consumer is exposed to product advertisement and that consumer’s inclination to sample the new product. The very same principle applies to how we influence our target audiences when we conduct COIN.
And those "thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs" appear to serve Baker's strategy, which states: "Repetition is a key tenet of IO execution, and the failure to constantly drive home a consistent message dilutes the impact on the target audiences."
So it appears the new content stream is an outlet for "uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate," as Weil told FP, as well as a vehicle for U.S. Information Operations.
* Weil, the BBG spokeswoman, provided this comment on the unnamed source's comments:
"The new law makes no change to the BBG’s enabling statute, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, which authorizes the BBG to create programs for audiences overseas – a fact that is stated in the new legislation. It does not authorize the BBG to create programs for audiences in the United States, nor do we seek to do that. It also does not authorize the BBG to begin broadcasting in the United States, and we do not seek to do that, either. Rather, the new law lets our broadcasters respond positively to requests from within the United States for their programs. This would conceivably allow residents of émigré communities – many from areas in conflict —access to reliable, broadcast-quality news of their home countries and elsewhere in their native languages upon request. It will also facilitate global connectivity and engagement and provide greater transparency into publicly-funded broadcasting."
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