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Pentagon says military-run websites that paid for favorable stories are legal

[JURIST] An inquiry [AP report] by the Pentagon's Inspector General [official website] has concluded that websites operated by the US military that pay journalists to write articles and commentary supporting military activities are legal and do not infringe and laws or government policies. The IG investigation determined that two websites aimed at audiences in the Balkans and the Maghreb region of northern Africa are not covert propaganda and are properly identified as US government products, although the identifications are not prominent. The Balkans website, Southeast European Times, was created in 1999 under a secret directive signed by President Clinton, and was designed to counter Serbian propaganda during the Kosovo war. The African website, Magharebia, attempts to strengthen US interests in an area sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism. Both sites contain links to a disclaimer [Magharebia text] that they are "sponsored by the US Department of Defense," and in addition to sponsored submissions include articles pulled from independent news services including the Associated Press, UPI and Reuters. Opinion in the Pentagon on the advisability of maintaining these sites and creating others like them seems to be split, with Pentagon chief spokesman Lawrence DiRita recently expressing concern that they could backfire and have a negative effect on public opinion overseas: "We have a lot of skilled people, a lot of energy, and a lot of money... but I question whether the DoD is the best place to be doing these things." The Los Angeles Times has more. Earlier this month, press reports circulated that the US military has paid Iraqi newspapers [AP report] to carry favorable news about US operations there under the guise of independent journalism.

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