Citizens should be able to trust both the media and their government. Even if this may not always be the case, in the past citizens could hope that one of the two entities would check on the other. But when both join forces — knowingly or not — a problem emerges that needs to be addressed before propaganda and straight news reporting merge beyond recognition. A law that proposes to formally make such government funded propaganda illegal is therefore needed.
In some instances, reporting has already been merged with government-funded propaganda, rendering it unrecognizable to viewers and readers.
Recently, journalists made the news (pun intended) when they accepted pay from the U.S. government to lobby for programs such as No Child Left Behind in their writing or in other forms. Previously, the Bush administration funded videos that were sent to TV stations nationwide that featured actors speaking out on behalf of several programs. Many stations did not realize the tapes were not straight news reports and aired the segments without a disclaimer about the obvious bias.
President George W. Bush’s comment in the first Cabinet meeting of the year spelled out that the government should not be misleading its citizens. But a simple “don’t do it” from the Commander in Chief will likely not have the effect it should if consequences aren’t enacted.
According to Editor and Publisher magazine, Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce the “Stop Government Propaganda Act” to make such funding not only illegal but also to outline penalties in case violations occur.
It would be preferable if the government could be trusted to act responsibly. But as recent history has shown, it cannot.