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The Washington Post
October 8, 1999; Page A25

No News Isn't Good News

By Nora Boustany

What ever happened to such pearls of wisdom as "information is power" or "know thine enemy?" Scholars, historians, journalists, policy analysts and diplomats will no longer be able to turn to the Commerce Department's World News Connection for material from countries under U.S. sanctions--such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Libya. The service provides full texts of speeches, information from national news agencies and editorial comment from non-English newspapers, not to mention facts that never make it into the media.

World News Connection is the division of Commerce that was designated as the successor to the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service for public distribution of materials on countries around the world. The embargoed countries, now deleted from the database, are where that source material is most important since it is often difficult to get original material in good translation, academics and policy analysts argue.

The World News Connection announced its policy change in a report about Y2K compliance. "In addition, you will notice some changes to the sources represented. For example, we have deleted sources from the countries contained on the U.S. Department of State embargoed list," said the notification buried deep in the report.

The legal catch is that because of sanctions, the United States cannot pay copyright fees for these materials. "The United States has unilaterally bombed Iraq, Sudan and Libya, but we cower at the prospect of a copyright dispute?" asked Gary Sick, a former member of the National Security Council. "Couldn't we just put the funds in escrow? This information makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security. It informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible."

In 1997, a congressional attempt to cut funding to the information service was defeated in the face of public protest, so the demand is out there. In fact, hefty subscription rates make the World News Connection financially self-supporting. The monitoring of television, radio, news agencies and the print media will continue, but the transcripts for countries under sanction will only be available to the U.S. government. Could Secretary of Commerce William Daley, who is responsible for the decision, please explain?


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