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FCC's Adelstein Calls for New Investigations into Propaganda

With the National Conference of Media Reform happening in Minneapolis this weekend, we’ve invited Timothy Karr, campaign director for media reform organization Free Press, to blog from the event.

FCC’s Adelstein Calls for New Investigations into Propaganda

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein on Sunday pledged to take on government propaganda with the full force of the law.

During the closing keynote at the National Conference for Media Reform, Adelstein described the controversy in the wake of an April 20 New York Times exposé that found the Defense Department had recruited, scripted and sometimes paid more than 75 retired military analysts to appear on network and cable news outlets and echo the Bush administration’s talking points on the Iraq war.

To remedy this threat to journalism, Adelstein committed to demanding a thorough FCC investigation, which would determine whether the Pentagon or the media violated existing laws against payola.

"These rules prohibit anyone involved with preparing broadcast or cable programs from accepting anything of value without disclosing it to the public," Adelstein said. "They also require broadcast and cable stations to exercise reasonable diligence in determining whether a disclosure is need for materials involving controversial issues of public importance."

"Were any questions even asked?" he said. "This is not just a question of journalist ethics and integrity. It is the law."

The FCC commissioner told the audience that this scandal may have violated another law. "Congress has specifically outlawed the use of federal funds for covert propaganda," he said. "The GAO determined that the ‘critical element’ of covert propaganda is the concealment of the agency’s role in preparing the material from the target audience."

Adelstein also pledged to call on the Department of Justice to investigate whether there has been a violation of the federal anti-propaganda statute.

"Federal anti-propaganda and payola laws are grounded on the principle that the public is entitled to know who seeks to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about the credibility of the information presented," he said.

"The public has a legal right to know that people who present themselves to be independent, unbiased experts and reporters are not shills hired to promote a corporate - or governmental - agenda."

-Timothy Karr