The nearest experience Americans have had to the true silencing of freedom of speech has been novels and movies about government-controlled broadcast systems, news print industries, etc. It serves as fine entertainment with a bucket of popcorn and as great subjects for English papers; however, how far-fetched is the idea that the government could take control of the American media?
It’s not that far-fetched at all. In fact, it’s already been quietly signed into law as of December 23.
As we mourned celebrity deaths and celebrated our holidays as best we could post-election, President Barack Obama quietly signed H.R. 5181 into law. Buried deeply within the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report, it’s not something being widely reported on. In fact, we found out about it accidentally. The bill, H.R. 5181 or aptly named, “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016” was introduced to Congress back in March of this year by Sen. Rob Portman who said:
‘In my view, the United States is not doing enough to counter the destabilizing foreign propaganda and disinformation operations that dominate this space.’
So, what is the law actually capable of? It’s capable of creating a national center for investigating foreign media that is worthy of the Orwellian nickname, “The Ministry of Truth.” Indeed, the bill calls for the establishment of a “center for information analysis and response” within 180 days of becoming law.
‘ESTABLISHMENT – Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other relevant departments and agencies, establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response (in this section referred to as the “Center”).’
So, what would the Center be tasked with? Sen. Portman said on his website that the Center had two main priorities. Its first priority would be to establish a strategy for countering foreign propaganda and disinformation. Specifically, he stated:
‘The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations by our enemies and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.’
The Center’s second priority he described as leveraging “expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options.” More specifically, he stated:
‘The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques. This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process. It will also empower a decentralized network of private sector experts and integrate their expertise into the strategy-making process.’
Though Portman described the act as an attempt at “building up independent, objective journalism in places like eastern Europe,” is there really any way to ensure that American media outlets (particularly outlets such as yours truly) are protected from being accused of issuing propaganda when they are simply reporting matters that don’t fit the status quo of whatever party is in power? Within the bill, one of the functions of the Center, is described as:
‘Identifying gaps in United States capabilities in areas relevant to the Center’s mission and recommending necessary enhancements or changes.’
With the unhappiness of Democrats with the election results and the blaming of fake media, there is no way to ensure that all media outlets within America are treated objectively when they may report something contrary to the current administration’s wishes. Furthermore, it’s a bill that comes off as invading other countries to influence their own journalistic systems. More frightening is the fact that this is a bill many of us would never have known anything about thanks to its quiet signing into law by a president many of us admire/admired during a time when our attention was focused elsewhere.
You can read the entirety of the bill here.
Featured image via Getty Images / Adam Berry.