Keep government out of the media
By Scott Sumner
People on the left often favor government support for public news outlets such as NPR and PBS. They argue that the reporters are independent of the government and do a good job. That may be true, but as long as the government is involved there’s always the danger that the public media outlets get turned into a propaganda tool for the administration.
And now that seems to be happening for another part of the US government’s vast media empire:
Earlier this month, a Steve Bannon ally and conservative filmmaker appointed by President Donald Trump took over running the vast global network of news agencies funded and operated by the US government.
Within hours of introducing himself to employees, he’d purged four top officials — and critics are calling it a blatant effort to turn America’s state-run news organizations into Trump-friendly propaganda outlets.
But Steve Bannon, who was deeply involved with getting Trump to nominate his ally Michael Pack, sees the ousters as a reckoning for an agency that he believes has been too soft on covering China.
“We are going hard on the charge,” Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and executive chairman of Breitbart, told me. “Pack’s over there to clean house.”
Michael Pack was confirmed this month as the new CEO of the US Agency for Global Media, a government department that oversees five media organizations — Voice of America, Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund — and is collectively one of the largest media networks in the world.
The Trump administration is unhappy about coverage of China:
“Journalists should report the facts, but VOA has instead amplified Beijing’s propaganda,” read an April White House article titled “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda.”
“This week, VOA called China’s Wuhan lockdown a successful ‘model’ copied by much of the world — and then tweeted out video of the Communist government’s celebratory light show marking the quarantine’s alleged end,” it continued.
This is a bit odd; given that Trump praised the Chinese leadership no fewer than 15 times for their success in handling the Covid-19 crisis. Is Trump a part of the Chinese propaganda?
Under Pack, Bannon said taxpayer-funded news outlets will now forcefully highlight many of the regime’s human rights abuses, namely its detention of over a million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps.
I wonder if Steve Bannon wants these news outlets to report that Trump at least tacitly encouraged Xi Jinping to continue putting the Uighurs into concentration camps:
Mr Bolton said Mr Trump also told Mr Xi to go ahead with its internment of Uighurs — Chinese ethnic Muslims who have been rounded up and placed in facilities that human rights groups compare to concentration camps.
At the same time, there is evidence that the VOA put out stories ridiculing Trump during the 2016 campaign. So the VOA is not blameless.
For libertarians, there are no winners in a war between the right and the left over regulating the media, the internet, or any other form of information dissemination. The only solution is to keep the government out of the media to the greatest extent possible. If government media outlets did not exist, they’d be a less tempting target for those who wish to use them as a propaganda tool.