Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Iron Fence Preventing Cultural Communication

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”[1] American journalist Edward R. Murrow, made this statement about the importance of the broadcasting, both domestically and abroad. However, sixty years later, the U.S. has retained restrictions over international broadcastings being run within the U.S. since the establishment of the Smith-Mundt Act in 1948. The continued existence of the Smith-Mundt ban on domestic dissemination of organizations such as Voice of America (VOA), and U.S. government-produced international broadcasting (USIB) products, has created an "iron fence" preventing the U.S. public from accessing cultural communication networks, which broadcast inclusive coverage of world-news.  

Viewed as one of the most influential laws, the Smith-Mundt act, has raised contemporary concerns due to the dynamic change of the international environment compared to the period after WWII, when it was created. According to critiques, the Smith-Mundt act creates barriers in oversight and prevents cultural communication.  For example, possessing an educational and cultural exchange component focused on the promotion of American information abroad, the act was created as a counter-wait to the (former) USSR and signed into law under a "cold-war context". Seeing the need to foreign audiences to learn more about the U.S. by establishing programs abroad was essentially the Smith-Mundt acts main goal. Consequently, Congress did not include a two-way exchange component within this legislation due to a consensus that materials created for foreign audiences should not publicized within American borders.  

 It was not until 1972 that an amendment was added onto the act, sponsored by Senator J. William Fulbright.  However, during the same year the 1972 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that prevents domestic dissemination of “information about the United States, its policies, and its people”[2] prepared for foreign audiences was created to support the Smith-Mundt act. Why this act still remains in place today, may be closely tied to a security aspect more so than a prescribed ban on preventing cultural communication.  However, by default the Smith-Mundt act has prevented the American publics access to wide-ranging information on foreign affairs. Even now, the act hinders use of significant journalistic resources by both public and private networks in the U.S.[3] Whether or not this "iron fence" will be removed remains to be seen at this time.
[1,2, and 3] Metzgar, T. Emily.  Public Diplomacy, Smith-Mundt, and the American Public. (2012). Communication Law and Policy, 17:1, 67-101. Retrieved from: theAmericanPublic.pdf. Accessed on November 28, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your views on the Smith-Mundt Act. We can't expect to improve U.S. public diplomacy abroad when American taxpayers don't fully understand it at home. Technical or scholarly definitions of public diplomacy in books or officially publications will far from suffice, and making available information about public diplomacy projects and materials employed by U.S. diplomats overseas to Americans will undoubtedly aid in fostering greater understanding and discussion. Besides, in the IT-laden information and media environment we live in today, it's nearly impossible to hide American public diplomacy entirely behind the iron curtain. Like you've stated, we might as well move forward beyond outdated regulations.