Recalling History: the Government will step down as private media step up

In an article written for The New York Times Magazine December 2, 1945, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs William Benton described the purpose and need for what we know refer to as public diplomacy. This article came less than two months after HR 4368 was introduced in the House, a bill on extending and broadening the “existing programs for the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills between” the US and foreign countries.

The bill, which was to amend and make permanent a 1938 act that permitted temporary activities, was for the “purpose of promoting that mutual understanding between peoples which is the true and essential foundation for durable peace and recognizing that such understanding requires the continuing interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills, and in order that all present and future activities of department, agencies, and independent establishments of the Government to these ends may be most effectively planned and integrated” under the review of Congress and leadership of the Secretary of State. The role of Government, as Benton stated in his October 16, 1945, testimony to Congress in favor of the bill, is “facilitative and supplementary” to private agencies. His New York Times Magazine article, a part of which is below, was largely drawn from his testimony.

The Government should not undertake to do what private press, radio and motion-picture organizations do better, or what our tourists, salesmen, technicians, book publishers, play producers and universities do regularly and well. The soundest procedure Is for the State Department to determine, and to keep determining as conditions change, our information needs area by area, then to support and help private industry to do everything it can to meet these needs. The remainder of the job will devolve upon the department.

In news distribution the Government will progressively retire from the field, which it moved into as a war necessity. My hope is that The Associated Press, The United Press and International News Service, highly competitive organizations, will greatly expand their world coverage. Before very long governmental overseas news will be limited mainly to such background information as full texts of Presidential statements, acts of Congress, or reports like that of General Marshall, which have proved of great value to foreign editors, writers and organizations and which are essential to our embassies and missions abroad.

In short - wave radio the role of private enterprise is under study. This is a much more complex problem. There is no profit in short-wave radio. The Government must put up the money. Other Governments are using short - wave on an increasing scale. Technical efficiency grows from day to day. We cannot retire from the field. We have not yet determined how to operate it or who should own and control it.

HR 4368, known as the Bloom Bill after its sponsor, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it would pass the House to be blocked by a single Senator. It was reintroduced in the 80th Congress and became known by the last names of its new sponsors, Sen. Smith and Rep. Mundt.

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