Thursday, May 24th 2012
There has been of late a flurry of commentary about the proposed modernization of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 which created the framework for all of the overseas information dissemination and cultural and educational exchanges activity of the USG. The reasons for the modernization vary with the interest group concerned but it is generally regarded that the 24/7 news cycle and the existence of the Internet have made portions of the Act either laughable or inoperable depending upon your point of view.
Specifically, the prohibition against the Department of State's dissemination of material intended for overseas audiences to American citizens or residents of the USA is a rather tough rule to enforce when most of this content is carried routinely on the Internet and is instantly accessable to millions of Americans--if they choose to access it.
Rather too much has been made of this over the years and I am ambivalent as to whether modernization is so vitally necessary. Still, I think modernization of the relevent portions of the Act is inevitable and in making these changes we must ensure that there are no unintended consequences which would allow some future bureaucrat to manipulate American public opinion. That said, the American public is already perhaps the most propagandized public on the face of the earth--we just call it public affairs or public information instead of propaganda! For another interesting point of view see John Brown's latest Blog posting: