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The major news outlets in the United States are all considered private,

  • ABC News
  • CBS News
  • CNN
  • Fox News Channel
  • MSNBC
  • NBC News

But there are lots of reports of the government spending millions on advertising

According to the report, the federal government obligates, on average, nearly $1 billion a year for advertising and PR contracts. Most of that money goes toward advertising. Another roughly $500 million goes toward salaries for federal public relations employees.

Does any of that money go to "funding" the above PR companies. All of these companies have YouTube channels, and none of them are marked as "funded by the American government", but similar messages can be found on RT, PressTV, and TRT World.

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  • Related question, in the sense that it's asking whether RT is being treated differently to other news organisations: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/27282/… – Andrew Grimm Feb 13 '18 at 2:27
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    Directly, it partially funds PBS. Indirectly, sure, I guess you could say it 'funds' any station it pays advertising for, but no one would really consider that formal funding. – user1530 Feb 13 '18 at 6:35
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    I guess they kind of cheat a little bit there. They probably mean no direct funding when saying no funding. Indirectly and partly they profit from public money one way or the other. – Trilarion Feb 13 '18 at 8:26
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    An important issue would be the freedom that the government has when deciding which media to use. If it has to follow some stablished procedures and cannot punish or reward companies in function of what they emit, then that "funding" does not provide much leverage. – SJuan76 Feb 13 '18 at 9:48
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    The above are not "PR companies", officially (though many effectively function that way for one of the two major parties). They are media companies, in the business of obtaining revenues from advertisers via providing content to advertising target audience. – user4012 Feb 13 '18 at 13:15
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The reason there is a discrepancy that arose your need to ask the question is because the question is based on incorrect understanding of what the media companies do.

All of the companies listed (not all media companies, but all the ones listed in the question), mainly function in one of two business models:

In this case, even if you care about US Government media buys, those buys are in the form of second business case, where US government merely acts as Yet Another Advertising Customer. In other words, they don't "fund" the company, they merely contract the company's service, like any other customer.

Additionally, as @Brythan's answer noted, they are not nearly a major revenue source for these companies and therefore, cannot exert editorial pressure on the company by threatening loss of business.


This contrasts with the case of companies like RT or BBC, whose major revenues source is actual budget allocated by their country's government - not in exchange for equivalently priced ads, but in exchange for content produced.

This is materially different in two important ways:

  1. The content is what's being sold (not the ads between content). As such, the customer may - and often does - exert influence on what the content is.

  2. The share of company's budget/revenue coming from the government is meaningfully larger, again making the government able to exert leverage on the content.

This is precisely why such labeling on Youtube applies to RT but not Fox/MSNBC; but it also applies to US media companies that are in part or whole government funded such as PBS in US or BBC in UK

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    Good and clear answer. Nit-nitting: "immeasurably" is not the best adverb here: given the budget figures of the given news companies, we could very well measure the government's share in them. – Evargalo Feb 13 '18 at 13:57
  • @Evargalo - edited, thanks. I'd blame it on my ESL but i should have known better anyway :) – user4012 Feb 13 '18 at 14:01
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  1. It is unlikely that the United States government spends a significant portion of its advertising budget on news programs. It is far more likely that it spends most of that roughly $500 million on sports and entertainment advertising. Also, not all of it would be on television. Magazines, newspapers, and direct mail are also potential channels.

  2. Even if the US government spent all its money on national news programs, just the three cable news stations have $5 billion in revenues. That's ten times the federal spending on all forms of advertising.

Most television news is not national. Before NBC News is on for a half hour, there are two hours of local news in the early evening. The local news is also on at 11 PM, noon, and before the morning national news (two hours). ABC and CBS are similar. That's about two and a half hours of national news a day and four or five hours of local news. Contrast that with sixteen or so hours of non-news programming. And that's just three of the five major commercial broadcast networks.

The CW and Fox (the network, not the news channel obviously) do not have national news. Some affiliates may carry local news from partners on other channels. And the vast preponderance of cable channels are entertainment, not news.

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    "It is far more likely that it spends most of that roughly $500 million on sports and entertainment advertising." I don't understand that sentence. Why should the US government spent money on sports and entertainment advertising? – Trilarion Feb 13 '18 at 8:25
  • @Trilarion my assumption is that the poster is referring to advertising within sports and entertainment television programs, not advertising of sports and entertainment. – Andrew Grimm Feb 13 '18 at 11:17
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    I wonder whether (and how much) of that $500M is stuff like ads to join the military, or ads to use this or that government program, or anti-drug or other policy campaigns? – user4012 Feb 13 '18 at 13:16
  • @Trilarion This article states that the US Military budget for advertising was ~$667 million in 2012. They also have a racing team (I'm not sure if that was included). – Jeff Lambert Feb 13 '18 at 16:10
  • budget.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/… which is the source of the article in the question says DoD is the lead spender with the census being relevant in the couple years of public facing work. What is included is what the government spender codes as PR or Advertising, but in a mixed budget item only the biggest thing gets the code, so there is some uncertainty in the numbers. – user9389 Feb 13 '18 at 18:12
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Not sure exactly what you mean here by "the media", but the US has financed (and continues to finance) some media, such as VOA or RFERL, typically for foreign audiences. Under the present organization both of these (and a few other more obscure outlets) belong to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which had an annual budget of some $753 million (FY 2016) and some 3,500 employees, so not exactly small potatoes. For comparison, CNN has some 4,000 employees, although probably more revenue/budget (one figure I saw was $1.2B in revenue for 2018.)

A 1948 law prohibited such stations like VOA and RFERL from broadcasting mainly to Americans. Also, throughout much of the Cold War, these belonged to the better known and better funded (around $2B/year) USIA.

Some countries like Russia responded in kind to the US requirement that RT register as a foreign agent, requiring (in 2017) VOA [& RFERL] to do the same etc.

Moscow's action [...] came in retaliation to Washington's move [...] forcing a U.S.-based affiliate of Kremlin-funded RT, formerly known as Russia Today, to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, also known as "FARA." The act requires people acting as agents of foreign governments to publicly disclose their relationship. [...]

Russian officials have called the new legislation a "symmetrical response" to what they describe as U.S. pressure on Russian media.


As far as the PR budget of the US gov't, I don't exactly what that was about as the link from Fox News' reporting is a dead link now. The US government isn't limited to financing those USAGM outlets though, as far as PR efforts go. The Fox News story mentioned that "The GAO reported that the spending is concentrated among a handful of agencies, especially the Defense Department." So, that's almost certainly another bucket of money. From the same story:

The report noted that agencies “may have legitimate interests in communicating with the public” and gave several examples – such as the IRS providing information about a tax credit or the Education Department providing information about student aid applications.

So that's a different issue than taking adverts in the [domestic] media or sponsoring media outlets for foreign policy purposes.

According to a Reason article from 2016 that's almost certainly talking about the same report:

that includes everything from press releases and safety bulletins to television ads for Obamacare, direct mailers about the importance of getting flu shots and endless streams of tweets and Facebook posts intended to connect the average American with their government.

Every department and agency in the government does it, but no one does it as much as the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon accounted for 60 percent of all public relations spending between 2006 and 2015, the GAO found, and it employs about 40 percent of the more than 5,000 public relations workers in the federal government.

For context: there are only 4,500 employees in the U.S. Department of Education.

So that report did not seem to include USAGM under "PR". Perhaps the [accounting] subtlety is (given figure 6 quoted from the report) that that GAO report is only about "advertising and public relations contracts"--emphasis mine; since USAGM is funded by a line item in the budget and not by a contract... it doesn't count under (any) "contracts".

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