Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 did not prohibit access to government news by American media

Capitol Building

´┐╝It was always legal for Americans and American media to use U.S. government-funded news programs in the United States and rebroadcast such programs if they had obtained access to them on their own.

In other words, there were no legal prohibitions on using such programs by American citizens, residents of the United States or American media outlets rebroadcasting such programs in the United States. They would have to find and record these programs themselves without any help from government officials. Once these programs were put on the Internet, it was relatively easy. In fact, Americans newspapers and radio stations were using Voice of America programs under the 1948 law without any major problems. Domestic demand for such programs was, however, quite low.

Prohibitions in the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 applied only to the government. Under the old law, State Department, United States Information Agency, and later Broadcasting Board of Governors officials were prohibited from disseminating such material in the United States.

To get the 1948 law changed, U.S. government officials released misleading information that it was somehow illegal or impossible for Americans to use these programs. In fact, these programs had been available earlier through shortwave radio transmissions and later most of them, including audio and video, were available and downloadable for reuse and rebroadcast off the Internet.

In some cases, broadcasters would have had problems getting broadcast quality video or video tapes, although they would have been able to download such programs off satellites unless the signal was scrambled. There was no big demand domestically for these programs and those who wanted them were able to find them on the Internet.

Under the old law, government officials were not allowed to assist in releasing these programs or in making them available for immediate use. They were also not allowed to market these programs in the United States.

Excerpt from the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948:

TITLE V-DISSEMINATING INFORMATION ABOUT THE UNITED STATES ABROAD

GENERAL AUTHORIZATION

SEC.501. The Secretary is authorized, when he finds it appropriate, to provide for the preparation, and dissemination abroad, of information about the United States, its people, and its policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, and other information media, and through information centers and instructors abroad.

Any such press release or radio script, on request, shall be available in the English language a t the Department of State, at all reasonable times following its release as information abroad, for examination by representatives of United States press associations, newspapers, magazines, radio systems, and stations, and, on request, shall be made available to Members of Congress.

POLICIES GOVERNING INFORMATION ACTIVITIES

SEC.502. I n authorizing international information activities under this Act, it is the sense of the Congress (1) that the Secretary shall reduce such Government information activities whenever corresponding private information dissemination is found to be adequate; (2) that nothing in this Act shall be construed to give the Department a monopoly in the production or sponsorship on the air of short-wave broadcasting programs, or a monopoly on any other medium of information.

Full text of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.

Another link to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.

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