On December 23, 2016 outgoing president Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017. The law included a section titled “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” and authorized $160 million dollars to be used fight propaganda deemed unfavorable to US interests. Writing for Consortium News, Rick Sterling highlighted several examples where the real propaganda may originate from western sources and this powerful new law will be used to quash voices daring to dissent from the corporate media and western world narrative particularly regarding what is happening on the ground in Syria. One specific example noted the confusion about the true fate of Al Quds hospital in east Aleppo. He offers considerable proof that the hospital did not suffer the damage described by Doctors Without Borders and reported by corporate media. The organization later revised their claims of damage and admitted they had neither witnessed the attack nor visited the hospital after the damage was said to have occurred. This is one of many examples where Sterling proves the dissenting reports out of Syria are already rarely reaching western audiences. If the US government believes that an alternative narrative or perspective is damaging to US interests it could now simply declare it propaganda and attempt to silence or discredit the source.
Sterling warns that funds can be used to hire or reward “civil society groups, media content providers, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions.” These groups may sit in judgement of information and declare ideas or critical news reports as propaganda efforts of an enemy. The law calls for coordination between the State Department, Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence and the Broadcasting Board of Governors with the goal being to “establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response.”
In terms of media coverage, the Washington Post ran a story titled “Effort to combat foreign propaganda advances in Congress” which stated, “The measure approved Wednesday is aimed at foreign information sources, not ones based in the United States.” But other coverage by independent news sourses calls this statement into question. Writing for Naked Capalitism, Lambert Strether notes that ambiguity in the statute’s language may allow action against US based sources. In the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 the language was concise “including threats from foreign countries and foreign non-state actors. Section 1287(2) of the 2017 law in question reads, “The purpose of the Center shall be to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” Strether notes the difference stressing the addition of the phrase “non-state propaganda.” He went on to note that Snopes had attempted to debunk a ”rumor” this law could be enforced on US media but relied on reporting from the Washington Post’s that did not examine the actual language of the law. Strether concludes, “A careful reading of the ’Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act’ shows there is good reason to fear an impact on American independent or alternative media as these numerous small web outlets are ‘non-state actors.’” MintPress News was among the only outlets that ran a story on June 7, 2016 that questioned the original House bill.
Rick Sterling “The War Against Alternative Information,” Consortium News, January 1, 2017, https://consortiumnews.com/2017/01/01/the-war-against-alternative-information/
Lambert Strether, “Does the ‘Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act’ Apply to American Independent or Alternative Media?” Naked Capitalism, January 3, 2017, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/100755.html
Craig Timberg, “Effort to combat foreign propaganda advances in congress,” Washington Post, November 30, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/effort-to-combat-foreign-propaganda-advances-in-congress/2016/11/30/9147e1ac-e221-47be-ab92-9f2f7e69d452_story.html?utm_term=.9ce5764ca7ed
Claire Bernish,”Propaganda Bill In Congress Could Give America It’s Very Own Ministry Of Truth”, MintPress News. June 7, 2016, http://www.mintpressnews.com/propaganda-bill-congress-give-america-ministry-truth/217016/
Student Researcher: Tom Field (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)