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January 2005
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Stop Government Propaganda Act

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In response to continued revelations of government-funded “journalism” — ranging from the purported video news releases put out by the drug czar’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services to the recently uncovered payments to columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher,who flacked administration programs — Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce a bill, The Stop Government Propaganda Act, in the Senate next week.

The Stop Government Propaganda Act states, “Funds appropriated to an Executive branch agency may not be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by law.” …

According to a release, publicity or propaganda is defined in the bill as: news releases or publications that do not clearly identify the government agency responsible for the content; audio/visual or Internet presentations that do not identify the responsible government agency; any attempt to manipulate journalists or news organizations; messages created to aid a political party or candidate; messages with a “self-aggrandizing” purpose or “puffery of the Administration, agency, executive branch programs or policies or pending legislation”; and, finally, messages that are “so misleading or inaccurate that they constitute propaganda.” [emphasis added]

Durbin and Corzine have also signed on, and they’re looking for some Republican co-sponsors.
There have been provisions in the past that supposedly prevented much of this, but it has had very little in the way of teeth. This bill would actually provide some liability for agency heads that authorized propaganda.
The interesting thing is with the ONDCP. By my view, the entire agency is in violation of the Stop Government Propaganda Act merely by showing up at work. Their perspective, however, is that they are “authorized by law” to be distributors of propaganda — that it’s an essential part of their charge. (for more on their back and forth in this area with the GAO, see the GAO report that found their covert VNRs illegal – pdf).

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