CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Communist and Islamist Propaganda on Public Media

Joel Kaplan

December 14, 2012

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, wants to know if it is true that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is funding the distribution of Al-Jazeera, which he calls the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Moscow-funded Russia Today (RT) and CCTV, which he calls the official propaganda arm of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party.

"Does the CPB use federal funds to broadcast foreign propaganda in the U.S., such as CCTV and RT?" Rep. Rohrabacher asks in a letter to CPB President Patricia Harrison. "Why do scarce public funds support the broadcasting efforts of dictatorships? China censors the Internet and jams the radio signals from the Voice of American (sic) and Radio Free Asia. No content provided by the Chinese Communist Party should be spread or supported by U.S. taxpayer funds. If this is true it is a shocking practice and must end."

The California Republican cites a report on the Accuracy in Media (AIM) website that claims while "we are borrowing from China to pay for public broadcasting in America, the complete truth is actually more shocking—we are borrowing from China to help public broadcasting air Chinese propaganda in the U.S."

That report, written by Cliff Kincaid, who is director of AIM's Center for Investigative Reporting, says the programming is distributed to various public media outlets through a public television programming service called MHz Worldwide, which is a project of MHz Networks. Mr. Kincaid says CPB funneled more than $27.5 million into MHz Networks and its affiliates. MHz is a division of Commonwealth Public Broadcasting based in Richmond, Virginia.

AIM, a conservative media watchdog group, was founded in 1969 by Reed Irvine with the aim of uncovering liberal bias in the media. However, over the years it has been cited for a number of inaccuracies of its own, including its contention that Vince Foster, a former aide to President Clinton, was murdered.

In response to Rep. Rohrabacher's letter, Ms. Harrison responded to the allegations:

"First and foremost, it is important to know that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) does not broadcast programming, " she writes. " CPB, in fact, is required under the Public Broadcasting Act to 'assure the maximum freedom of the public telecommunications entities and systems from interference with, or control of, program content or other activities.' See 47 U.S.C. §396(g)(1)(D). Second, CPB does not use federal funds to broadcast foreign propaganda in the United States. Third, scarce public funds are not being directed to support the broadcasting efforts of dictatorships."

The letter goes on to say that over the past three years, CPB gave Commonwealth Public Broadcasting a total of $4.7 million in grants, with $3.8 million going to it in the form of Community Service Grants and $900,000 going for digital equipment.

"None of the federal funds provided to Commonwealth Public Broadcasting by CPB through the Community Service Grant (CSG) program are or have been used by MHz Networks to acquire or disseminate their programming," Ms. Harrison says "Moreover, CPB does not provide MHz Networks with federal funding for any of its operating costs."

Ms. Harrison concludes her letter by saying:

"It has been CPB's long-standing policy to support a wide variety of programming sources and distribution channels, so that local programmers — and viewers and listeners — have a wide number of program choices. Programming content for stations comes from PBS, American Public Television (APT), the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), other independent sources, and from local sources, including the station themselves.

"Ultimately, each local station decides which programs to carry and when to carry them - with decisions about controversial content vested, by law, in individual stations. While the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does not support MHz's programming content, much less broadcasting efforts of dictators, we are constrained by our federal statute and directed not to interfere with local station programming decisions."

Here is a copy of her complete letter.

Scott Cullinane, a staff associate on the congressman's subcommittee, says the letter is still being reviewed and so his office has no response.

While it appears that Rep. Rohrabacher's concerns are misplaced, it should be noted that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with broadcasting reports from overseas broadcasters.

While no foreign public broadcasting entities have the freedoms and resources that the U.S. has except for, perhaps, the BBC, it is always worth listening to other points of views. And while Rep. Rohrabacher calls much of what is broadcast on some of these entities as propaganda, one man's propaganda is another man's truth.

It is useful to be able to watch Al-Jazeera to see what is going on in the Middle East. And it is useful to be able to view CCTV, RT, Ethiopian TV, France 24 and the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Out of all these diverse broadcasters it is hoped that we can become a more informed people and that the truth will emerge.

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