Recently, Congress passed and the President signed legislation that will ease restrictions on access by people in the United States to the world-class news, information and cultural programming created by Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) entities.
Under a decades-old law known as the Smith-Mundt Act, we had been prohibited from making available to domestic audiences the programs that we had been producing for people overseas. The advent of the Internet and satellite broadcasting, of course, made it difficult for U.S. international broadcasting entities to keep their content away from American audiences, and it was not clear whether the outdated law restricted our use of certain distribution platforms.
Congress and the President agreed that the law needed to be clarified, and they lifted this restriction in legislation that will take effect in July.
The law provides better transparency on agency activities and will offer Americans a better understanding of the journalistic mission of U.S. international broadcasting. At the same time, it may give taxpayers a clearer view of how America’s international broadcasting dollars are being spent.
Our objective news and information programming could benefit a variety of domestic audiences who request that programming, especially diaspora communities that may have scant access to information in their native languages.
The new legislation does not change the BBG’s founding statute, so we’re only allowed to create programs for international audiences, and we cannot disseminate programs within the United States outside a request for that programming. Our funds will continue to be spent serving overseas audiences.
The legislation was just signed into law last week, and it doesn’t take effect for six months, so we have time to consider all of the effects it may have and the opportunities it may present.
In short, this is a very welcome change that has been long sought by the BBG and some of our public diplomacy colleagues outside government as well as at the State Department. But it does nothing to change the agency’s overarching mission, which is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.