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White House Defends Video News Releases

Mar 15, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Federal agencies may continue using taxpayer funds to produce and distribute video news releases — as long as the releases are informational and don’t covertly try to promote a point of view. That was gist of the pitch in a March 11 memo to executive agency heads from White House Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten.

The memo came in response to a recent opinion by Congress’ General Accountability Office holding that executive branch video news releases that don’t adequately disclose their agency roots violate a law barring use of public funding for propaganda purposes. But in his memo to the agencies, Mr. Bolten said the Department of Justice, not GAO, speaks for the executive branch on legal issues. And a Department of Justice memo attached to the OMB missive argues that the propaganda prohibitions don’t apply to video news releases that do not “constitute advocacy for any particular position or view.”

The Department of Justice “does not agree with GAO that the ‘covert propaganda’ prohibition applies simply because an agency’s role in producing and disseminating information is undisclosed or ‘covert,’ regardless of whether the content of the message is ‘propaganda,'” the Department of Justice said. “Our view is the prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency.”