US International Broadcasting as an Untapped Resource

Recommended: US International Broadcasting: an untapped resource for ethnic and domestic news organization (PDF, 139kb) by Shawn Powers.

The American approach to public service broadcasting, which is severely underfunded when compared to the rest of the world, is also legally separated from U.S. international broadcasting, a firewall that inhibits effective collaboration between either. Indeed, the problem is worse, as U.S.-funded international broadcasting is prohibited from disseminating its journalistic features within the U.S., a ban that prevents effective use of its significant journalistic resources by both public and private news networks in the United States. including a large sector of ethnic media that could surely benefit from the 60 languages that American international broadcasting reports in. For comparison, the BBC, the world's most respected news institution, houses all of its international and domestic news services in the same newsroom, therefore maximizing the benefits of a diverse and large staff while limiting costly redundancies. This paper argues for further collaboration between government funded international broadcasting and its domestic counterparts -- both public and private -- and thus for policies that match the reality of today's information ecology.

Shawn's paper is a welcome contribution to the need to break down the firewall of the revised Smith-Mundt Act. The original purpose of the institutionalization of US international broadcasting in 1945 (the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 was first introduced in October 1945) was to fill a gap in reaching non-US audiences that US media could not. Testifying before a House Appropriations Committee in 1946, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs stated the purpose of US government broadcasting:

Our number one policy is to encourage private agencies to do the job. We propose only to fill in the gaps where, and when private agencies cannot do the job.

Today, in a twist on the question about a tree in the forest, if America's media does not cover an event, does it really happen? The retreat of US domestic media from overseas is troublesome for America's global affairs. America's media focus on speed over accuracy and a short-attention span prevents not only informing the American public, but of legislators, policy makers, and even the media itself. 

Shawn's paper should be required reading by Congress and the State Department.

One minor comment on the paper: Shawn implies the language "for examination only" in Section 501 of the Act / Section 1461 of US Code was in the original legislation. It was, in fact, inserted by Senator Fulbright. 

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