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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

U.S. repeals ban on broadcasting Voice of America, other government-funded news for American audiences



News programming produced by government-funded outlets such as Voice of America (VoA) and TV y Radio Martí will now be broadcasted to American audiences for the first time following the repeal of a law that had prohibited such content from being widely viewed within the United States.

The move, which went into effect this month, comes after Congress repealed provisions of a law that had long restricted the domestic broadcast and dissemination of government-funded news programming intended for foreign audiences.

Critics have often viewed VoA, founded during World War II and expanded during the Cold War, as propaganda aimed at creating pro-American sentiment with people in areas of strategic importance to the United States.  

Voice of America. Photo: BBG Strategy

TV y Radio Martí originally started as a radio broadcast in 1983 and is known for its editorial slant against the Castro regime in Cuba. The Cuban government has made efforts to jam the stations’ transmission, although it can also be picked up on signals as far as Central America.

Congressional lawmakers in the past have argued that programming used to promote American interests abroad could amount to domestic propaganda if shown within the United States. Thus led to the decades-long restriction of domestic transmission of VoA and other related content.

“The American taxpayer does not need or want his tax dollars used to support U.S. government propaganda direct at him or her,” said former U.S. Senator Edward Zorinsky during a 1985 debate on domestic dissemination of government-funded media activities.

Although VoA content had already been accessible for Americans through its online news site, the new law states that any material produced can now be requested by broadcasters for domestic distribution and be made in broadcast quality form. This includes thousands of taxpayer-funded hours of news and information programs in 61 languages, including Spanish programming for Latin American audiences and Portuguese content for African listeners.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) – the government agency in charge of producing outlets such as VoA, Radio y TV Marti, Radio Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – lauded the reform as an opportunity for émigré and refugee communities living in the U.S., often whom escaped areas of conflict, to receive news programming in their native language.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas lawmaker and co-sponsor of the legislation that overturned the ban, said in a July article for Foreign Policy magazine that the government-funded media content would not propagandize American citizens and would add to transparency.

“The idea that the State Department could be so effective as to impact domestic politics is just silly. This gives Americans the chance to see what the State Department is saying to people all over the world," Thornberry said.

According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, VoA’s operating budget for the 2012 fiscal year was $206 million. TV/Radio Martí’s budget totaled to $28 million operating budget for the same time period.

Former VoA journalist Ted Lipien, in a July 16 post for the online Digital Journal, states that the American public should now pay close attention to how the news organization is managed and demand full transparency and accountability.

“I am not afraid of taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) news in the United States, but I'm afraid of government officials who may interfere with the news and mistreat journalists,” he said.



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