In fact, here is what the act says: “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States.”
Of course, the legislation has been somewhat outdated by technology. Audiences with access to the Internet or satellite TV or even a shortwave can still access VOA programming --- even if they live in the United States.
The point is, VOA is not allowed to intentionally target the U.S. audience. (And there is nothing illegal about Americans viewing, reading or listening to VOA material.)
In any case, the symposium heard a variety of voices on the subject of Smith-Mundt and the broader topic of U.S. public diplomacy efforts. Some 200 people attended -- officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress as well as former U.S. Information Agency officials, some representatives from VOA and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, members of the academic community and others. There was no immediate consensus on whether Smith-Mundt should be thrown out altogether, made less restrictive or made tougher.
But former VOA Director David Jackson, a panelist at the symposium, did make a couple of points we believe are worth repeating here. First of all, he stressed that all those working in the VOA headquarters in Washington are journalists. He said U.S. officials can “no more tell them what to write” than they can tell journalists at the Washington Post (newspaper) what to write. And he suggested that removal of the Smith-Mundt restrictions on VOA could help silence critics who claim the contents of VOA shows must be suspicious if the American people aren’t allowed to see them.
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see if Congress and the next administration consider this a priority.
In the meantime, more information about the symposium can be viewed at the “Mountainrunner” website of its organizer, Matt Armstrong.