Most Americans probably don't think about it much, and some may even be unaware, but the United States has a government-funded international media outlet, Voice Of America. Now that Donald Trump is president, VOA, at least in a technical sense, is under his control. If you are thinking "This may not end well," you may be correct.
VOA is a source of news and information about the United States that until recently was only available outside U.S. borders. On the "history" page of their website they explain their origin and purpose:
The Voice of America began broadcasting in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda with accurate and unbiased news and information. Ever since then, VOA has served the world with a consistent message of truth, hope and inspiration.
VOA is run by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. That board oversees all government-funded media outlets intended mainly for foreign consumption, and has a budget of some $800 million. Politico reports that staffers at the broadcaster are concerned about a Trump takeover because Congress voted to replace the board of directors that monitored VOA with a CEO who will be appointed by the president. Last Monday Trump sent two aides, one with a background in right-wing "journalism," to have a look at the VOA operation.
You can already see where this may be headed. Trump and his team have been hammering the media for weeks now over claims of "fake news" and "biased" coverage against him. Now he has the opportunity to take control of a news operation that can be turned into a full-fledged propaganda outlet, broadcasting actual fake news around the world as well as here at home.
It's a much better deal for the new ruler of America than Trump TV, the network he was rumored to be planning to follow an expected election loss. In taking over VOA there would be no start-up costs, ready to go infrastructure, and a world-wide established audience. All he would need to do is staff it with employees loyal to the Trump brand and presto! -- instant pro-Trump propaganda.
CNN's Brian Stelter warned about VOA becoming Trump TV in December. Particularly concerning to him is the possibility, now that the network is available for domestic as well as foreign consumption, that Trump's team could use it to offer their "alternative facts" to Americans. That would give them the opportunity to influence the political process and possibly elections here at home.
Imagine the damage that could be done to American politics with VOA broadcasting pro-Trump propaganda into American homes on a 24/7 basis. Many Americans already "know" too many things that aren't true, thanks to outlets like Fox News. Now picture Fox News on steroids and you have what VOA could look like under Trump.
VOA director Amanda Bennett said the network will remain independent under Trump.
I know that everyone is looking to say that we're being manipulated by the Trump administration. We're absolutely not.
Maybe not yet. But Trump doesn't have his CEO in place. When that happens it could be a whole new ballgame at VOA, and Ms. Bennett could be on the outside looking in.
VOA and its sister networks -- Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network -- were all started for the purpose of presenting factual information to people living in countries where there were no options outside of state-run media. Now, if some observers' fears come true, we may need something along the lines of "Radio Free America" to counter the lies of our own state-controlled broadcaster.