New US law to tackle ‘ineffective government propaganda’

A provision in the defense bill giving control of the US' Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to a president-appointed CEO aims to address the government’s ineffective foreign media, including VOA and Radio Free Europe, says anti-war activist Richard Becker.

A major shake-up is on the way for government-sponsored media in the US. Under new proposals, the president would have the right to appoint a chief executive in charge of all outlets that receive federal funding.

A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 passed last week would abolish the nine-member bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) – the US government-funded media channels that broadcast mainly to foreign audiences and include such news outlets as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia. Under the new law, which Donald Trump will inherit from the Obama administration, the BBG will be overseen by a CEO appointed by the president.

RT: In practice, what do you think these changes will mean for media organizations funded by the US government?

Richard Becker: We would think that what has been going on for the last 70 years with the US government-funded foreign media like Radio Free Europe, VOA, Radio Marti directed particularly at Cuba. This has been government propaganda. It has not been very effective government propaganda. So, the Senate and the House are preparing to include in the National Defense Authorization Bill (Act) switching this over to the White House and who is in the White House. There are people like Steve Bannon from Breitbart which is an extremely provocative news source. Ann Coulter is a big supporter of Trump. We don’t know who is going to be appointed, but we do know that there is a whole history. Cuba has been a particular target. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) under Clinton, under Bush, under Obama - they have all pursued this course of trying to bring down the government in Cuba, to try to use the media, Radio and TV Marti. And they have directly paid many scores of journalists, particularly when the case of the Cuban Five was at trial, they were being paid by the US government which was prosecuting the Cuban Five to also write denigrating stories and articles about them. So, we don’t really know what the content of this will be but we don’t think it will be anything good.

RT: These reforms were proposed by Republican congressmen. What do you think they were hoping to achieve?

RB: I think they believe that their foreign media is quite ineffective. And I think that they are right about that. I think there are statistics showing that of all the media outlets that are paid attention to in Russia - Radio Free Europe, VOA they rate somewhere down in the 3000 or 4000 most listened to radio stations and media outlets. So, they are trying to be more effective. The US government sees, and I think this will go for the Trump administration as well, that there are certain countries in the world that they want to bring down, where they want to bring about regime change or weaken those governments. And I think that those include China, Russia, Cuba and others.

RT: As we just heard, American politicians have repeatedly criticized RT because it receives government money. And yet the US government has its own media outlets, broadcasting worldwide (Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and so on). Isn't it a little hypocritical?

RB: There is no question about that. Even when they are supposedly independent of the government, in times of crisis and particularly in war time, they serve as non-government-funded or maybe they are government-funded under the table. I am talking about the New York Times and the Washington Post, the big newspapers like they all got behind the war in Iraq. Even though the invasion in 2003 which set in motion the whole train of events that have brought us to the disastrous situation we see today in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East. And they always do this. They consistently line up despite the fact that they know that they are being fed false propaganda, false intelligence…But they got behind that war and now they are critical of some things that happened back then. But at the critical, the crucial time, when the war was being prepared, those big corporate media serve as the voice of the government.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.