February 22, 2007The Internet home for government information has been stripped of Voice of America content and other international news after federal lawyers determined that the material should not be on a domestic news site.
VOA, which began airing in radio format in 1942, is a multimedia, international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government. Both it and the Radio Free programs are part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent agency responsible for all U.S. government-sponsored, non-military, global broadcasting.
A 1948 law known as the Smith-Mundt Act bars domestic dissemination of official American information aimed at foreign audiences, according to VOA's Web site.
But before this week, Internet users who typed the word "Bush" into the search box under the news tab at USA.gov received VOA news articles as the top results. Stories from Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe also were appearing on USA.gov searches.
On Wednesday morning, VOA and the other select independent media sources no longer were in the search results for "Bush" or anywhere else on the USA.gov site. The General Services Administration, which runs USA.gov, said that an official at the State Department's electronic information division had questioned GSA about the publication of Radio Free and VOA stories.
Subsequently, GSA requested a legal opinion on the use of VOA, according to GSA spokeswoman Claire Dorrell. GSA lawyers issued their interpretation of the law Tuesday.
The review "indicated we are not permitted to use VOA or Radio Free-anything data in our news search because, as the VOA site indicated, their content is not permitted to be used for domestic consumption," Dorrell said. GSA's search contractor, Vivisimo, excised the content from the news searches that night.
Some government watchdog groups said they are pleased that GSA is now complying with federal law on its public Web site.
"In light of the administration's other ventures into domestic propaganda," said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "it was a matter of real concern that such information was on USA.gov, which is linked to by the states and by educational institutions around the country."
VOA representatives said they were unaware of the controversy until Technology Daily brought this week's developments to their attention.
Removing VOA stories from USA.gov will not prevent the American public from accessing VOA on the Internet, VOA spokesman Joe O'Connell said.
"VOA has had a Web site for many years, now," he said Wednesday. "In fact, all 45 of our broadcast languages have Web sites. The nature of the Web is that it doesn't respect boundaries."
As for the suggestion that VOA is biased propaganda, O'Connell said, "If there was an appearance we were cooking our material," VOA would not have a following of more than 115 million people.
"People around the world are very skeptical about state-run broadcasters, and they can smell propaganda from a mile away," O'Connell said. "Are we suggesting that we're fooling 115 million people a week? I don't think so."
February 22, 2007