Smith-Mundt Modernization Act: What is it?

In 1948, the US Information and Educational Exchange Act was passed, placing limits on how the U.S. government conducts public diplomacy. This act, also known as the Smith-Mundt Act, prevented materials meant for foreign audiences to be distributed in the United States. Now, 65 years later, Smith-Mundt is being modernized to fit in with 21st century standards.

 

The Smith-Mundt modernization act has no meaning for many U.S. citizens but for those who practice public diplomacy it is a step in the right direction. The media atmosphere was very different in 1948 than in 2013. There was no Internet, or cell phones. The world was not as interconnected as it is now.

 

Beginning July 2, 2013, public diplomacy practitioners will be able to disseminate certain public diplomacy material within the United States, its territories or possessions, if requested of them.  The modernization act allows program material to be made available within the United States under limited circumstances:  upon request; in English; at the Department; following release abroad; for examination only by representatives of U.S. press associations, newspapers, magazines, research students and scholars and, upon request, for examination only to Members of Congress. This new rule only covers those materials produced after July 2. The act is not retroactive – older publications will not be covered.

 

The amendments eliminate the outright ban on domestic dissemination of program material, but the ability to distribute program material without a request remains quite limited. It might also not be as flexible in allowing materials to be shared with other U.S. government entities who focus mainly in communications with a domestic audience.

 

As the world becomes more interconnected, the Smith-Mundt Act will probably continue to be revisited. Governments can no longer afford to lag behind. With growing diaspora populations and worldly youth, the U.S. government needs to keep their domestic audiences informed in the same way as their foreign audiences in order to meet their policy goals.

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