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article imageOp-Ed: Big Brother bill passing U.S. Congress with little media coverage

By Ken Hanly     Dec 11, 2016 in Politics
Washington D.c. - One recent bill in the U.S. Congress is designed to crack down on websites suspected of spreading Russian propaganda. However, another more extensive bill goes even further establishing what Zero Hedge calls a de facto Ministry of Truth.
The two bills are discussed in a recent article in Zero Hedge. The first bill H.R. 6393 the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 can be found here. I put in the reference since Zero Hedge is among those listed as a "fake news" site peddling propaganda in a source cited by a recent Washington Post article discussed in a Digital Journal Op Ed.. The bill passed with a large majority according to Zero Hedge but you can verify this fact on the GovTrack website, which shows the official count! The bill seeks to crack down on websites that are promoting Russian propaganda without indicating they are funded by Russian authorities.
However, a second bill that is likely to affect the Internet even more and tries to control what Americans will read, hear, or view passed the House just recently. The bill H.R. 5181 calls for a "whole-government approach without bureaucratic restrictions" and is designed to counter foreign disinformation and manipulation which is believed to threaten global "security and stability". When introduced into the Senate the bill was called the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 (S. 2692). The Zero Hedge article claims that the bill represents a return to Cold War-era propaganda battles. Where has Zero Hedge been? The battle has been going on for some time now in news coverage of the Crimea, Syria, eastern Ukraine etc.
Senator Rob Portman notes that countries such as Russia spend enormous sums funding political movements and other efforts to influence key audiences and populations including generous funding of news organizations such as RT. Of course, all countries do this — as exemplified by Iran's Press TV, France 24, Deutsche Welle, and China's CCTV. The U.S. has its own Voice of America. Apparently the U.S. does not like the competition.
What the U.S. needs is a single agency "charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation". Perhaps as Zero Hedge suggests it should be called the Ministry of Truth. The House bill H.R. 5181 speaks of establishing a "Center for Information Analysis and Response" which would find sources of misinformation and then develop and disseminate "fact-based narratives' to counter the propaganda. This sounds fine except that we know that government itself is a prime source of propaganda and misinformation as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. We need protection against the government which is provided by counter-narratives.
The "Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act" was quietly included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This was passed in Senate December 8. The bill is described as follows: The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Senators Portman and Murphy in March, will improve the ability of the United States to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation by establishing an inter-agency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. This will better leverage existing expertise and empower local communities to defend themselves from foreign manipulation.
The role of U.S. mass media in Manufacturing Consent is obviously not sufficient in an age where different narratives on the Internet are ubiquitous and the public are becoming skeptical of not only government narratives but of the mainstream media in general. Legislation is needed to better control the flow of information. Senator Portman's bill increases the authority, resources and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include not just violent extremists but state actors such as Russia and China: The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
The legislation would also help fund local journalists, provide grants to NGO's, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations and other experts in identifying and analyzing 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.
The U.S. being a competitive country will no doubt use the latest successful foreign disinformation techniques to produce a superior American Truth version of fake news. Should these new attempts to control the flow of information not work the government may attempt to imitate the techniques of countries such as Egypt or Turkey and simply make anti-government news promotion a crime while trying to restrict public access to alternative outlets.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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