- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — are pushing a bill to update a Cold War-era law on propaganda efforts by federal agencies that critics say hinders the U.S. war of ideas against Muslim extremists.

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 was designed “to counter communism during the Cold War, [and] is outdated for the conflicts of today,” said Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat.

“This outdated law ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military and others,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican. “Congress has a responsibility to fix the situation.”

At issue are provisions of the law banning the domestic dissemination of government-produced or -funded communications aimed at a foreign audience, to keep anti-communist and other kinds of U.S. propaganda out of America.

But experts say such restrictions do not make sense in the Internet age.

“Leaflets don’t blow across the world,” Isaac R. Porche, a researcher on strategic information campaigns at the Rand Corp., said last year.

The two lawmakers, authors of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (HR 5736), say the current law restricts the broadcast in the United States of any programs produced by Voice of America.

In 2010, for instance, emergency broadcasts in Creole, aimed to help the stricken survivors of the Haitian earthquake, could not be carried by Sirius satellite radio, according to a joint statement from Mr. Smith and Mr. Thornberry.

Officials say effective outreach and communication with foreign audiences, especially in the Muslim world, are essential elements in U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and other violent extremists.

Smith-Mundt must be updated to bolster our strategic communications and public diplomacy capacity on all fronts and mediums &mdash especially online,” Mr. Smith said.