Obama did not sign a law allowing propaganda in the U.S.
CLAIM: Former President Barack Obama signed a law in 2012 allowing government propaganda in the U.S., and making it “perfectly legal for the media to purposely lie to the American people.”
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. In 2013, Obama signed legislation that changed the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, also known as the Smith-Mundt Act. The amendment made it possible for some materials created by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the nation’s foreign broadcasting agency, to be disseminated in the U.S.
THE FACTS: A post circulating on Facebook with a photo of Obama falsely states he repealed a ban on government propaganda in the U.S. when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2013. The amendment did not repeal the Smith-Mundt Act, but rather lifted some restrictions on the domestic dissemination of government-funded media.
The change essentially eased restrictions for Americans who want to access government-funded media content, allowing media produced by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, to be made available to Americans “upon request.”
That was not possible before the law was changed. “Even upon request, if I wanted to get it through FOIA, for instance, they couldn’t do it. The amendment changed that,” said Gabe Rottman, director of the Reporters Committee’s Technology and Press Freedom Project.
Under the previous law, the agency’s content, including radio broadcasts from Voice of America, were banned from dissemination in the U.S. However, Americans were still able to access much of the content online.
“There was essentially a de facto ban on the domestic dissemination of materials originating from the State Department,” said Weston Sager, an attorney who published a paper on the change in law.
Under the new law, it is still against the law for government-funded media to create programming and market their content to U.S. audiences.
Versions of the claim accusing Obama of legalizing propaganda have circulated on Twitter and Facebook since around the time the law was passed. The meme attempts to link Obama to the spread of misinformation.
During consideration of the bill, critics voiced concern that lifting the restrictions could result in information designed to influence foreign audiences being used against American citizens. Proponents countered that the ban made it difficult for Americans to access and evaluate this content.
The U.S. government created the agency now known as the U.S. Agency for Global Media during World War II to broadcast American-centric programming to foreign audiences. With an $805 million annual operating budget, agency oversees five media networks that reach millions of viewers and listeners abroad.
“When it was first passed in 1948, the ban wasn’t even about protecting the public from propaganda,” Emily Metzgar, professor at The Media School at Indiana University, told The Associated Press. “The ban was about protecting a nascent broadcast industry in the United States in the early post-war years… . But these restrictions became framed as something that was about preventing the poison within those agencies from being distributed to the American public.”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536