Commentary

Reuters Received Secret Cold War Funding From UK Government

Reuters received secret funding from the British government in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the country's propaganda war against the Soviet Union, according to declassified government documents. The revelations may be shocking to some, but weren't unusual during the Cold War.

The U.K. government persuaded the news agency to set up a bureau in the Middle East, funding it through the BBC, which first reported on the uncovered documents.

A secretive group in the country's Foreign Office, which handles diplomatic relations, conceived a plan for Reuters to provide news copy in English and Arabic about local and world events. Newspapers and broadcasters in the politically volatile region could reuse the news copy in their own reporting.

Reuters needed the subsidy for a Middle Eastern service, as it faced significant financial difficulties in its international operations, the BBC reported. The Foreign Office didn't want to give Reuters direct funding and possibly damage its reputation.

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“Many news organizations received some form of state subsidy after World War II,” David Crundwell, a Reuters spokesperson said. He also explained the arrangement didn't adhere to its "trust principles" to protect the news agency's integrity and independence. "We would not do this today," he said.

The document disclosures provide more insight into how intelligence agencies collaborate with media organizations, even in countries that espouse a free and independent press.

During the Cold War, many U.S. news outlets were handmaidens to the Central Intelligence Agency's efforts to spin stories and counter Soviet propaganda.

Tim Weiner, a reporter for The New York Times, included some of that history in his much-lauded book "Legacy of Ashes," which describes many of the CIA's covert actions.

"American newsrooms were dominated by veterans of the government's wartime propaganda branch, the Office of War Information," according to his book.

Allen Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, cultivated strong relationships with The New York Times, The Washington Post and the leading magazines in the country, including Time, Life and Fortune. The press helped to burnish Dulles' image as the head of a professional spy agency instead of digging into the CIA's operations and questioning its competence.

While it's doubtful that any reporter wants to jeopardize national security, intelligence agencies deserve plenty of press scrutiny.

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