March 14, 2005

Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda

An important piece from The New York Times:
"Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance.

In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production... records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source."
The article notes that criticism by government watchdogs is having little or no effect on stemming the spread of such bogus news stories. And it says major television networks play crucial intermediary roles in the business:
Fox, for example, has an arrangement with Medialink to distribute video news releases to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes releases to 750 stations in the United States and Canada through a similar feed service, CNN Newsource. Associated Press Television News does the same thing worldwide with its Global Video Wire.

"We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed," David M. Winstrom, director of Fox News Edge, said of video news releases. "If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it."
Well now, who said Fox News ethics don't exist eh???

As usual, it's all about money. TV stations run the segments because they are cheap (no need for independent reporters, let alone independent thought), networks distribute them because they are revenue-raising, and the supposed "reporters" are just ordinary folks trying to get ahead and pay their bills at home...

The article includes several case-studies and interviews where the TV execs responsible for disseminating these infomercials did not even realise that what they were broadcasting was State Department propaganda.
An important instrument of this strategy was the Office of Broadcasting Services, a State Department unit of 30 or so editors and technicians whose typical duties include distributing video from news conferences. But in early 2002, with close editorial direction from the White House, the unit began producing narrated feature reports, many of them promoting American achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq and reinforcing the administration's rationales for the invasions. These reports were then widely distributed in the United States and around the world for use by local television stations. In all, the State Department has produced 59 such segments.

United States law contains provisions intended to prevent the domestic dissemination of government propaganda. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, for example, allows Voice of America to broadcast pro-government news to foreign audiences, but not at home. Yet State Department officials said that law does not apply to the Office of Broadcasting Services. In any event, said Richard A. Boucher, a State Department spokesman: "Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We're not a propaganda agency."
So US Laws do not apply to the OBS, just because the OBS says laws do not apply? They are not a propaganda agency, just because they say they aren't? Somebody call the Attorney General for confirmation of this!!!

And that's just the State Department...
The Defense Department is working hard to produce and distribute its own news segments for television audiences in the United States.

The Pentagon Channel, available only inside the Defense Department last year, is now being offered to every cable and satellite operator in the United States. Army public affairs specialists, equipped with portable satellite transmitters, are roaming war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, beaming news reports, raw video and interviews to TV stations in the United States. All a local news director has to do is log on to a military-financed Web site,, browse a menu of segments and request a free satellite feed.

Then there is the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, a unit of 40 reporters and producers set up to send local stations news segments highlighting the accomplishments of military members.

''We're the 'good news' people,'' said Larry W. Gilliam, the unit's deputy director.
Hmmn... "Good news from Iraq" - sounds familiar?

Read the full 8-page story here.

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