WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a measure Thursday that would stop government agencies from using taxpayer funds to disguise video press releases as real news, putting the brakes on a product Democrats call propaganda.
President Bush cautioned that some responsibility for full disclosure rests with news outlets.
"It's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed," Bush told the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Thursday. "But it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, 'This news clip was produced by the federal government.'"
Senators voted 98-0 to attach the measure, sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., to the $80.6 billion emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under it, taxpayer funds would be prohibited from being used for prepackaged news stories unless those stories contain "clear notification within the text or audio of the prepackaged news" that discloses it was prepared or funded by a federal agency.
That way, said Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (search), R-Miss., the authors of the packages cannot be held liable for news outlets that do not disclose the funding source on their own.
The amendment writes into law a Government Accountability Office opinion that said the Bush administration has violated rules against "publicity and propaganda" with releases from several agencies.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (search), for example, released a series of videos in which a narrator, sometimes identified as "Karen Ryan," said she was "reporting" on the office's activities. Separately, the Health and Human Services Department's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services produced video news releases, also narrated by "Karen Ryan," touting changes to Medicare.
The tapes were offered to local television stations for news programs. Some stations aired the videos without identifying their government origins.
The White House Office of Management and Budget on March 11 countered that the GAO report "fails to recognize the distinction between covert propaganda and purely informational video news reports."
In other action on the spending bill, the Senate voted to:
— Prohibit military hospitals from charging soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan for meals.
— Change the name of the death benefit given to soldiers' families from "death gratuity" to "fallen hero compensation."
— Provide $5 million to promote democracy in Lebanon.