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US-Funded 'Independent' Media Abroad

How US government spends money to "promote democracy," "spread freedom," and "develop independent media" abroad

This article originally appeared at Global Research

While accusations against Russia’s “shadow funding” of state-controlled news outlets abound in the Western mainstream media, we hardly, if ever, hear about the U.S. funding of foreign media.

The U.S. government funds media abroad and, most of the time, covers its tracks by giving money to so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which in turn give grants to foreign news outlets aligned with the Western mainstream media narrative.

When Russia does it, the media on the receiving end is described as a state-controlled media. When the U.S. engages in this kind of endeavour, however, it is presented in its very own Orwellian way as an effort to “develop an independent media sector abroad”. State-funded “independent media?” That sure sounds like an oxymoron.

Since 2007, the US government has directly given at least $25.5 million dollars in grants to various US non-profit organizations for media projects in Ukraine only. On 18 grants, 14 went to Internews Network. A quick look at its website shows it is aligned with the Western mainstream media narrative, thus, with the White House’s foreign policy agenda. Among Internews Network’s donors are numerous Western governmental agencies and well-known “democracy makers”, namely organizations committed to furthering US interests abroad under the guise of defending democracy and human rights. Here are some of them:

Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Rockefeller Family & Associates

Rockefeller Foundation John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

John S. and James L Knight Foundation


Open Society Foundations

Omidyar Network

European Commission

Various Ministries of Foreign Affairs and International development Agencies (Netherlands,  Norway,  Sweden, UK, U.S.)

World Bank Group

Freedom House

National Democratic Institute (NDI) (Demorats’ non-profit organization)

National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy have proven to be CIA partners in the past. As Robert Parry explained, “Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy stress their commitment to freedom of thought and democracy, but both cooperated with a CIA-organized propaganda operation in the 1980s, according to documents released by Ronald Reagan’s presidential library.”

NED has been connected countless times to “activists” in foreign countries who are opposing governments which do not submit to Washington. In a way, NED has replaced the CIA. On its about page it states that after WWII, “U.S. policy makers resorted to covert means, secretly sending advisers, equipment, and funds to support newspapers and parties under siege in Europe. When it was revealed in the late 1960′s that some American PVO’s were receiving covert funding from the CIA to wage the battle of ideas at international forums, the Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending establishment of ‘a public-private mechanism’ to fund overseas activities openly.”

And NED was born. It describes itself as non-governmental even though it is “funded largely by the U.S. Congress… distributing funds to private organizations for the purpose of promoting democracy abroad.” Since it is well known and documented that the U.S. has a long history of overthrowing democratically elected left-wing governments and supporting dictatorships around the world, such as Saudi Arabia, NED’s “purpose of promoting democracy abroad” is preposterous.

As we can see in these articles from the 70′s and 80′s, Johnson’s establishment of “’a public-private mechanism’ to fund overseas activities openly” did not stop CIA media propaganda.

Rare moment of truth in The New York Times in 1977 “investigating the CIA’s role in global propaganda efforts, including Radio Free Asia.” Click on the image for the source.

Article in the September 22, 1981 Santa Cruz Sentinel about a CIA disinformation campaign. Click on the image for the source.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), a project of the National Endowment for Democracy, published several yearly reports on media development around the world.

The first report was called U.S. Public and Private Funding of Independent Media Development Abroad.

The report’s stated goal is to “learn who are the major donors, on what part of the sector they focus (direct assistance to media outlets, journalism training, public information campaigns, improving the legal environment for media, and media management) and what opportunities exist to educate potential donors about the importance of developing independent media as an essential component of democratic societies.”

Some of the key findings of the 2007 report were:

- U.S. funding for international media development in 2006 — public and private — exceeded $142 million;

- U.S. government funding totaled nearly $69 million;

- Funding from government-supported nonprofit organizations — the National Endowment for Democracy and U.S. Institute of Peace — totaled $13 million.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State/Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor were the most important governmental donors, respectively giving $49,684,000 and $11,800,000 in 2006 alone. The number one private donor that same year was the Open Society Institute with $40 million, followed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with $7 million.

Particularly of interest is the government’s strategy for 2007-2012 outlaid in the report. According to the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development’s Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2007-2012, the government will “advance media freedom by helping to create and develop independent media outlets…”

USAID plays a key role in funding “independent” media overseas, especially in the former Soviet Union:

“As a result of efforts in post-Soviet states to transform state-controlled media into independent media, Europe and Eurasia is the only one of USAID’s four geographic bureaus with a designated media development expert.” (Ibid.)

The rhetoric used in this report is pure propaganda and does not even bother being logical. It clearly says that the U.S. state is investing money and resources “to transform state-controlled media into independent media”. If it is funded by the U.S. state, how can it be labeled independent? What we are led to believe is that Russian-funded media is state-controlled whereas U.S.-funded media is “independent”.

For some reason, maybe reason itself, in the 2010 report called U.S. Government Funding for Media Development, the word “independent” has been removed. It states that U.S. funding for foreign media rose “dramatically” between 2005-2010:

“Over the past five years, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent more than a half billion dollars to support international media development… The State Department and USAID budgets for fiscal year 2010 totaled more than $47.9 billion. Of this sum, less than .3 percent—or $140.7 million—was spent on media development efforts. Still, this represents a36 percent—or $37.3 million—increase from media development spending in the previous fiscal year and an even more dramatic rise when compared with the $68.9 million spent five years earlier.”

Source: CIMA 2010 report

The US government even directly funds Russian media. For example, in 2011-2012 USAID gave $2,540,000 in grants for a program called “Independent print media in Russia”. The top recipients are Russian organizations FNE and Foundation Finformpolicy Dvl.

It sounds very little but, as we saw earlier, most of the state funding for “media development”, in other words for propaganda and political subversion, is channeled through government-funded “non-governmental” organizations such as NED and Freedom House to obscure the origins of the funding. These organizations will surely not give grants to news outlets which oppose the Western mainstream media narrative.

NED’s 2012 annual report, for example, shows over $4,6 million in funding for various “freedom of information” programs in Russia alone, including but not limited to: $74,730 “To continue developing an environmental investigative journalism network in Russia” and $80,000 to an organization which “will monitor the use of torture by law enforcement officials through reports in the regional press and consultations offered at its local headquarters. The organization will publicize the results of its monitoring on its website, through partner NGOs, and in local and national media outlets.”

If the amount spent by the U.S. government on “independent” media has decreased in recent years, CIMA explains in its 2013 report U.S. Government Funding for Media: Trends and Strategies that it is due to “the cutbacks in media development funding associated with the U.S. drawdowns in Iraq and especially Afghanistan, a drop of $28 million from 2010 to 2012 in South and Central Asia and $17.7 million in the Near East.”

Two spikes in U.S. government funding occurred since CIMA started reporting: “The data showed a spike in funding in 2008 as part a major investment in democracy and governance – including media – in Iraq and another in 2010 due to a similar investment in Afghanistan.”

This is very telling and completely destroys the “independent media” idea being promoted by the U.S. government and NED. It clearly shows that in the last decade the US government has substantially increased its funding of “independent media” in countries it has illegally invaded and militarily occupied.

How can the U.S. claim to be funding media development to “advance freedom” as claimed in the 2007 report, when the money comes after it has waged illegal wars against countries, killed millions of their citizens, destroyed their infrastructures and militarily occupied them?

If that’s not the essence of propaganda and state-controlled media, what is?

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