The Cable

State Department: We are not giving internet censorship funding to the BBC… yet

Foggy Bottom is flat out denying a British news report on Sunday that said State Department money would be awarded to the BBC to combat Internet censorship around the world. "The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet ...

Foggy Bottom is flat out denying a British news report on Sunday that said State Department money would be awarded to the BBC to combat Internet censorship around the world.

"The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China," the Guardian reported.

In fact, State has not yet made any decisions on how to spend the $30 million of congressionally appropriated money for fighting internet censorship that is sitting in its coffers. The BBC World Trust Service is just one of the 61 organizations applying for the funds, but has not gotten any approval or grants.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner called the Guardian article "inaccurate and misleading."

"The BBC World Service Trust has indicated its intention to submit a proposal to the State Department in the area of Internet freedom, as part of an open and competitive solicitation, but we have not yet received this proposal or made any funding decisions," Posner said in a statement.

He also said State has no intention of announcing the awarding of the funds on May 3, Press Freedom Day, as the Guardian article alleged. Our sources said that proposals are due on March 31; the following week, evaluation panels will meet to go over the proposals and make decisions. 

On Capitol Hill, there’s a bipartisan push to make sure most of those funds go to the U.S. government funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to immediately transfer no less than $8 million of the funds to the BBG.

Lugar is concerned that America is falling behind in the public diplomacy competition to countries that are expanding their external media operations, such as China.

"In the same way that our trade with China is out of balance, it is clear to even the casual observer that when it comes to interacting directly with the other nation’s public we are in another lop-sided contest," Lugar wrote in a recent report (PDF).

In Senate testimony earlier this month, Clinton agreed.

"We are in an information war, and we are losing that war," she said. "I’ll be very blunt in my assessment. Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened a global English language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network."

The House’s version of the temporary funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 calls for $10 million to be transferred from State to BBG toward this effort; the Senate version of the bill calls for $15 million. Aides on the Hill told The Cable that if a significant portion of the funds don’t end up in BBG hands, Lugar and other lawmakers will get deeply involved in pressuring State to rethink its decision.

"Given the recent language included in both House and Senate continuing resolutions, the State Department’s inability to see the Congressional handwriting on the wall on this issue is nothing short of breathtaking," a GOP Senate aide said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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