Passage of New Law Enhances Our Journalists’ Reach, Improves the Agency’s Use of Resources, Increases Transparency, BBG says

Washington, DC – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today hailed a new law that updates one of the founding statutes of public diplomacy in the United States, a change that the Board has long supported and had incorporated into its strategic plan.

The defense authorization bill that the President signed last night includes a provision that reduces restrictions on the dissemination of materials within the United States that were originally intended for audiences overseas. This means that news and information programs produced by BBG journalists for people in more than 100 countries can also be made available for broadcast within the United States; many already are available worldwide via the Internet.  The provision was originally known as the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act when it was first introduced in Congress in 2010 and re-introduced last year.

Presiding Governor Michael Lynton said the new law will allow the BBG to accept requests to provide its programs to organizations which, until now, it could not share them with, including U.S.-based broadcasters, publications, universities, non-governmental organizations, and others that have requested these materials over the years.

“This will enable more efficient use of agency resources, wider availability of our journalists’ vital and informative work, and greater transparency as more people in this country come to know what U.S. international broadcasting is about,” Lynton said.

The legislation updates the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, a section of which prohibited the State Department and U.S. international broadcasting from disseminating within this country any program materials that have been produced using funds appropriated for public diplomacy.  A subsequent amendment to the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 prohibited using such funds to influence public opinion in the United States.  These two provisions together are popularly known as Smith-Mundt, named after the primary Senate and House authors of the 1948 bill, who could not have anticipated the advent of the World Wide Web or dramatic shifts in the population of the United States, including large communities of people from other countries seeking information via a variety of media in their native languages.

“The new law is a major breakthrough for U.S. international media,” said Susan McCue, a member of the BBG Board’s Communications and Outreach Committee.  “All Americans will now have access to the vital and informative reporting of our accomplished journalists around the world who are working under difficult circumstances in closed societies and developing countries.  The news and programs they produce every day will benefit many US audiences, including diaspora communities.”

The BBG has been expanding its programming options overseas as more media platforms become popular among its key target audiences – emphasizing broadcasting via radio and TV where they have the greatest impact, while ramping up digital outreach in places where audiences increasingly indicate a preference for receiving news through websites, blogs, mobile devices or other means.  The new law allows this process to continue without regard to whether these programs might also be watched or heard by people within the United States, and expands the options for these programs’ distribution.

The law makes no change to the BBG’s enabling statute, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, which does not authorize the agency to create new programs solely for U.S. audiences.