United States Information Agency - Explained
What is the United States Information Agency?
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Table of ContentsWhat is the United States Information Agency (USIA)?What Does the United States Information Agency Do?
What is the United States Information Agency (USIA)?
The United States Information Agency (USIA) was established on August 1, 1953, as a consolidation of all the foreign information activities of the United States Government into one program. The agency was responsible for executing the public diplomacy programs of the US government. It was created to consolidate all the activities which were formerly carried out by the Department of State's International Information Administration (IIA), Technical Cooperation Administration (TCA), and Mutual Security Agency (MSA) in one single program. In April 1978, the functions of this agency were consolidated with the activities of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and the name of the agency was changed to the International Communication Agency (USICA). However, in August 1982 the name was restored to United States Information Agency. In 1999, the agency was abolished by the US government and the broadcasting functions of the agency were moved to the newly formed Broadcasting Board of Governors and non-broadcasting information functions were moved to the newly established Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the US Department of State.
What Does the United States Information Agency Do?
The United States Information Agency was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a mission to "understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions, and their counterparts abroad". It aimed "to streamline the U.S. government's overseas information programs and make them more effective". The agency was designed in accordance with the recommendations made by the President's Committee of International Information Activities (the Jackson Committee) and the Senate Special Subcommittee on Overseas Information Programs (the Hickenlooper Committee). The basic legislative mandates of the United States Information Agency were Public Law 80-402, the "United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948," also known as the Smith-Mundt Act and Public Law 87-256, the "Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act 1961," also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act. The agency supported American foreign policy and explained it to the world audience. It conducted several information programs across 150 nations to promote the national interests of the United States. It also conducted various educational and cultural activities to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the United States and other countries. Simultaneously, the agency conducted researches to find out how the image of the United States was perceived by the people outside the nation. These inputs were used in policy making of the country. To estimate the foreign public opinion, they conducted several public opinion surveys all across the world. The agency was also responsible for submitting a twice-daily report on foreign media commentary around the world. President Dwight Eisenhower was of the opinion that, "audiences would be more receptive to the American message if they were kept from identifying it as propaganda. Avowedly propagandistic materials from the United States might convince few, but the same viewpoints presented by the seemingly independent voices would be more persuasive". Various forms of media were used by the USIA to reach out to a wide range of audience without being overtly propagandistic. They used "personal contact, radio broadcasting, libraries, book publication and distribution, press motion pictures, television, exhibits, English-language instruction, and others". At the beginning of the USIA's propaganda effort, there were four main divisions. The first division was responsible for broadcasting information both inside the country and in foreign nations. Radio was the most widely used media of broadcasting. By 1967, the Voice of America has up to 26 million audiences and was broadcasted in 38 different languages. The second division of the agency was comprised of libraries and exhibits. The USIA used to provide grants to the "Fulbrighters" under its educational and cultural program. The third division of the USIA included press services. It was recorded that during the first two decades of its existence the "USIA published sixty-six magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals, totaling almost 30 million copies annually, in twenty-eight languages". The fourth division was a motion picture service. The agency attempted to collaborate with Hollywood filmmakers to make propagandist movies, but the effort didn't succeed. After that, the agency started to produce their own documentaries to promote a positive image of the United States. The educational and informational efforts of the agency were focused on four areas: The agency produced The Washington File information service, among other electronic and print materials. It was a compilation of full transcripts of speeches, Congressional testimony, articles by Administration officials, and materials that provide analysis of the key issues. The agency described The Washington File as "both time-sensitive and in-depth information in five languages". The agency also had several websites through which they used to transmit information. A "Speakers and Specialists Program" was conceived and adopted by the agency. In this program, Americans were sent to foreign nations to assume various public speaking and technical assistance roles. These speakers were known as "American Participants" or "AmParts". In the foreign countries, there were more than 100 Information Resource Centers ran by the USIA. It also created some public access libraries in developing nations. In Washington, New York, and Los Angeles, the USIA operated foreign press centers to "assist the resident and visiting foreign journalists". In other major cities, such as Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Seattle, the agency worked in cooperation with other international press centers.