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January 27, 2005 - Editor & Publisher (US)

'Propaganda Act' To Be Introduced In Senate

By Brian Orloff

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

NEW YORK - In response to continued revelations of government-funded "journalism" -- ranging from the purported video news releases put out by the drug czar's office and the Department of Health and Human Services to the recently uncovered payments to columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, who flacked administration programs -- Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce a bill, The Stop Government Propaganda Act, in the Senate next week.

"It's just not enough to say, 'Please don't do it anymore,'" Alex Formuzis, Lautenberg's spokesman, told E&P. "Legislation sometimes is required and we believe it is in this case."

The Stop Government Propaganda Act states, "Funds appropriated to an Executive branch agency may not be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by law."

"It's time for Congress to shut down the Administration's propaganda mill," Lautenberg said in a statement. "It has no place in the United States Government."

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.).

Formuzis told E&P that while the bill is being introduced by Democrats, its message and intent is something endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike.

"We only have a few senators on the bill so far, but we hope and expect that we'll get a number of others to sign on to the legislation once we introduce it," he said.

"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an issue about an independent press, and I think that's something that will cross party lines."

The act would allow citizens to bring qui tam lawsuits on behalf of the United States government when the Department of Justice does not respond.

If the matter is taken to court, the bill proposes that the senior official responsible would be fined three times the amount of the "misspent taxpayer funds" plus an additional fine ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

And if a citizen's qui tam suit is accepted, the bill proposes that the plaintiff receives between 25 and 30% of the proceeds of the fine.

"The President said that his cabinet agencies made a mistake when they paid commentators to promote his agenda," Kennedy said in a statement.

"It's more than just a mistake, it's an abuse of taxpayer funds and an abuse of the First Amendment and freedom of the press. ... If the President is serious about stopping these abuses, he will support this legislation."

According to a release, publicity or propaganda is defined in the bill as: news releases or publications that do not clearly identify the government agency responsible for the content; audio/visual or Internet presentations that do not identify the responsible government agency; any attempt to manipulate journalists or news organizations; messages created to aid a political party or candidate; messages with a "self-aggrandizing" purpose or "puffery of the Administration, agency, executive branch programs or policies or pending legislation"; and, finally, messages that are "so misleading or inaccurate that they constitute propaganda."

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