Election 2016

Will Donald Trump Have Complete Control of America's Propaganda Arm?

Changes to the Broadcasting Board of Governors could allow Trump to build a propaganda arm—paid for by taxpayers.

Photo Credit: vnews.tv / Shutterstock.com

Thanks to the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act last week, President-elect Donald Trump could have the power to transform the Broadcasting Board of Governors—an independent U.S. agency that runs Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcast Networks and Voice of America—into a state-sponsored propaganda arm of the White House.

A provision tucked into the defense bill will disband the bipartisan board that oversees the network, Politico’s Tara Palmeri reported on Monday, handing authority to a CEO appointed by the president. Coupled with a 2013 amendment of the Smith-Mundt Act, which allowed these networks to broadcast in the United States, the revisions could mean that Donald Trump could control several TV networks—funded by the taxpayers, to boot. 

In a statement, the sponsor of the defense provision, Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, said the revamping of the Broadcast Board of Governors would provide “critical tools to tackle new threats, including the weaponization of information by ISIS and Russia.”

The United States’ response to this onslaught of propaganda has been crippled, in part, by bureaucracy. Our agencies that helped take down the Iron Curtain with accurate and timely broadcasting have lost their edge. They must be revitalized to effectively carry out their mission in this age of viral terrorism and digital propaganda. My provision takes an important first step in this process by replacing [the Broadcasting Board of Governors’] part-time board with a permanent CEO to help better deliver real news to people in countries where free press does not exist.

Royce’s office didn’t return an email requesting comment.

Prior to Trump’s upset victory, reports indicated the former reality TV star was seriously pursuing a media venture following his likely loss to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump TV, as it was billed, would have provided Trump a platform to reach his devoted supporters after the election. Now the president-elect can establish a media network that reaches the far corners of the world, with a budget of $800 million per year, courtesy of taxpayers.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors’ networks reach a weekly global audience of 226 million people, broadcasting in 100 countries and 61 languages. Voice of America was created during World War II to propagate pro-democracy news across Europe. In recent decades, the network has been transformed into a more traditional news source.

Politico reported that government officials and politicos are concerned that Trump will abuse his power over the agency to spread his message—although what that message might be has yet to be determined.

 

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Taylor Link is an assistant editor at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @taylorlink_.