Bookmark and Share

The American Forces Information Service, a division in the Department of Defense, runs programs related to public relations and information dissemination. It creates press releases through a news service and sets policy for internal publications, visual information and audiovisual programs. The AFIS also produces media aimed at service members and their families. For example, the American Forces Radio and Television Service, an office in the AFIS, broadcasts entertainment and other programs for soldiers and their families. In addition, the agency facilitates the publication of a daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, for service members.

The AFIS has many critics. Some believe it deceptive - at best - that press releases mimic the style of actual news reports. Others decry the perceived blurring of the distinction between public relations and news production that has occurred over the past few years. There have also been allegations of wrongdoing leveled against an AFIS PR effort called “America Supports You” (see Controversies below). For its part, the agency insists that AFRTS broadcasts are free from “censorship, propagandizing or manipulation.” The law also guarantees Stars and Stripes editorial independence, although there are still some prohibitions on information that can be published.
The Armed Forces Radio Service was established on May 26, 1942, by order of the Department of Defense, after several small military radio stations proved popular with troops. At first, the service produced its own programming in addition to rerunning shows that appeared on commercial networks. The service started relying completely on commercial networks by 1950.
After a practice run at an Air Force base in Maine, the military added television signals to its broadcast, becoming the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service in 1954.
The assistant secretary of defense for public relations assumed responsibility for military broadcasting when the AFIS was created in 1977.


AFRTS: The First Sixty Years


What it Does  

The AFIS is broken into many divisions. (Please note that online resources for some divisions appear to be divided between a collection of old-format Web pages and the Defense Department’s centralized Web space called DefenseLINK. Older pages may be incomplete or contain broken links.)
American Forces Press Service (Department of Defense Press Releases)
The American Forces Radio and Television Service provides programming for about 1 million service members, Department of Defense employees and contractors, and their families under the American Forces Network brand name. AFN distributes eight television channels through the Defense Media Center in Riverside County, Calif.; a ninth, the Pentagon Channel (see below), is produced separately by the Department of Defense Office of Public Affairs in Virginia, but is also distributed over the AFN network. Broadcasts typically include popular music, entertainment programming supplied free of charge by commercial networks, sports and news - “a touch of home” for those who are serving abroad, as the agency puts it. There are no commercials, with so-called “command information spots” containing public-service announcements taking their place.
Other AFRTS subdivisions carry out specific jobs:
Stars and Stripes is a newspaper published for the military, Department of Defense employees, affiliated contractors and their families. According to a 2002 audit conducted by MORI Research, the newspaper has a readership of about 365,000, with three editions serving different world regions published each day. By statute, the paper is editorially independent - with some limitations. For example, Stars and Stripes is prohibited from printing classified information that hasn’t been divulged in the commercial media first.
The AFIS manages DefenseLINK, the Department of Defense Web portal.
The Defense Visual Information Center provides access to visual information relating to the U.S. military, including films, still photographs and other multimedia records. It’s located at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif.
JVISDA catalogs and provides access to multimedia training materials for the armed services.
The AFIS provides training through DINFOS, the Department of Defense school for public relations, journalism, broadcasting and related fields. DINFOS is located at Maryland’s Fort George G. Meade.
America Supports You is a Department of Defense PR effort that claims to offer everyday Americans the opportunity to show their support for U.S. troops. This effort has been implicated in alleged misuse of taxpayer funds (see Controversies below).
Defend America recycles press releases and stories published by the American Forces News Service, arranging them in a way that’s reminiscent of news sites. The Defense Department is no longer maintaining this Web page, opting instead to publish releases on its DefenseLINK site.
Strategic Influence Office ‘Closed Down,’ Says Rumsfeld an example of an American Forces Press Service release
AFRTS Television News, featuring downloadable news videos from the Department of Defense Web site
Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site
MyAFN, from the American Forces Network Online Web site

Special Reports  from the Department of Defense Web site

Where Does the Money Go  


Top 10 Contractors
Innovative Technologies, Inc.
Film House, Inc.
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Cerberus Capital Management, L.P.
Avis Technology Inc.
Sony Corporation
B & H Foto & Electronics Corp.
Snader and Associates, Inc.
Taft Broadcasting Company, LLC
Towne Group Inc.


“Patriotic” Pro-Troop Group Pocketed the Big Bucks
Allison Barber, the chief of the American Forces Information Service, was in charge of the “America Supports You” program meant to show the public’s support for U.S. troops and their families. Instead, she funneled $8.8 million in contracts to the Susan Davis International public relations firm, which used the money to pay their executives between $312,000 and $662,000 a year.
The America Supports You Program (Inspector General, United States Department of Defense) (PDF)
News or Propaganda?
Some argue that some AFIS news products, including The Pentagon Channel, border on propaganda.
Pentagon news—is it propaganda? (by James W. Crawley, Media General News Service)
Pentagon sites: Journalism or propaganda? (by Barbara Starr and Larry Shaughnessy, CNN)
Right-Wing Bias
Many have protested the fact that conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s show is broadcast on the American Forces Radio network without being balanced by a comparable left-wing program.
Rush’s forced conscripts (by Eric Boehlert,
Staged Teleconference
Allison Barber, who serves as director of the AFIS (see her biography below for more information), has been criticized by some for her approach to public relations. A 2005 teleconference between President George W. Bush and troops serving in Iraq came under fire for the perceived extent to which it was rehearsed.
Bush Teleconference with Soldiers Staged (by Deb Riechmann, Associated Press)
Bush accused of staging chat with troops (by Jamie Wilson, The Guardian)
Support Our Props (Center for Media Democracy)
Fundraising for a Private Foundation
A May 12, 2007, article from The New York Times stated that the Defense Department inspector general was “examining whether officials who run ‘America Supports You,’ a three-year-old Pentagon program lauded by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, helped arrange a fund-raiser for a private foundation set up last December by former Bush administration appointees.” Pentagon officials are prohibited from fundraising for private entities, according to a Department of Defense spokesman. Money may also have been illegally funneled through Stars and Stripes for public relations purposes.
Pentagon Opens Inquiry of Troop-Support Group (by David S. Cloud, New York Times)
Military Paper Challenges Defense Dept. (by Sarah Abruzzese, New York Times)
Stripes part of America Supports You audit (by Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes)
Religious Entertainment
“America Supports You” has also come under fire for its affiliation with an “evangelical entertainment troupe” called Operation Straight Up.
Kill or Convert, Brought To You By The Pentagon (by Max Blumenthal, The Nation)
Improper Internal Controls
The lack of consistent AFIS leadership has harmed morale and contributed to “improper internal controls,” according to a memo written by the Defense Department inspector general.

IG calls for more distance between AFIS, DOD public affairs (by Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes)



Against - Non-Partisan
America Supports You (Source Watch)
For - From the Right
Captured al Qaida Documents Detail Shift in Support, an example of an American Forces Press Service story that has been reproduced as news on a conservative Web page
Suggested Reform
The AFIS will be merged with the Defense Media Activity division on Oct. 1, 2008, in an attempt to consolidate Defense Department public relations efforts. The Defense Department inspector general has also called for a permanent AFIS director to be named in order to boost morale, provide continuity and prevent the department’s public relations arm from having undue influence on the AFIS.

DoD to consolidate all media activities

(by William H. McMichael, Army Times)


Suggested Reforms  

The AFIS will be merged with the Defense Media Activity division on Oct. 1, 2008, in an attempt to consolidate Defense Department public relations efforts. The Defense Department inspector general has also called for a permanent AFIS director to be named in order to boost morale, provide continuity and prevent the department’s public relations arm from having undue influence on the AFIS.

DoD to consolidate all media activities

(by William H. McMichael, Army Times)

Congressional Oversight  
Former Directors  

J. Dorrance Smith
J. Dorrance Smith, who was Allison Barber’s former boss, has also stoked controversy. He has a reputation in some circles for being a Republican loyalist, particularly when it comes to the administration of George W. Bush. Bush first instated Smith in his post through a recess appointment on Jan. 4, 2006; Smith’s original nomination had been stalled since September 2005 over an opinion piece he had written for the Wall Street Journal. In the piece, he criticized major U.S. television networks and the Qatari government for cooperating with the Al Jazeera network in showing graphic battlefield footage.
“Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al-Qaida have a partner in Al Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S.,” Smith wrote in the op-ed titled “The Enemy On Our Airwaves.” “This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq.”
Without Senate approval, Smith’s appointment would have ended in January 2007. The nomination was confirmed by the Senate anyway on April 7, 2006. Smith replaced Victoria Clarke, who had vacated the position in June 2003. He left the position in October 2007.
Advance Questions for Mr. J. Dorrance Smith (from Smith’s Senate confirmation hearing) (PDF)
Senate Democrats grill Defense nominee (by Megan Scully, Congress Daily)

Pentagon Widens Its Battle to Shape News of Iraq War (by David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker, New York Times)



Dave Hawkridge - 10/4/2010 8:51:47 AM              
I am looking for someone who might be interested in a small bit of history that I have. My father, MSG Frank Hawkridge Jr. Ret., was stationed with the Panama Coast Artillery Command at Quarry Heights, Canal Zone in 1941. He was reassigned stateside in early October 1941. During his time in Panama, Master Sargeant Clay Doster, my father and others worked together to provide some "back home" entertainment to soldiers stationed throughout Panamas remote artillery sites. As you know this eventually lead to forming of the Armed Forces Radio Service. I have one original page of the "Panama Coast Artillery News" for August 9, 1941, "ON THE AIR" program guide; a magazine article "Radio Goes to War by David Sarnoff" dated Dec. 19, 1942, with a picture of the five men whose names I have on the program guide; one original copy of my fathers stateside reassignment orders; my fathers original ID card from Panama; and finally, one 8x10 black and white photo with SGT Hawkridge up a ladder and SGT Sonowski with the hammer after installing the sign over the stations door. Originally there were other photos but through the years some were damaged and others lost. If you are interested or know someone who might be interested in having these small pieces of history, please let me know. Thanks, Dave Hawkridge

Leave a Comment  
Enter the code:
Table of Contents

Founded: 1977 (with precursors dating back to the 1940s)
Annual Budget: $149.6 million (2008)
Employees: 913 (2008)

Defense Media Activity
Barber, Allison
Previous Deputy Assistant Secretary
Allison Barber received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Tennessee Temple University and a master’s degree in the same discipline from Indiana University.
In 1986, she began work as a teacher at Merrillville Public School in Indiana, where she remained until 1991. She began a six-year stint as public relations director for the American Red Cross in 1992. She moved on to become president of PlowShare, an advertising firm based in Connecticut. Barber then founded Sodenta, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.
In June 2001, Barber became special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for internal communications. On Nov. 23, 2003, Lawrence Di Rita, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, appointed her to her current post.
Barber has been criticized for becoming too involved in the day-to-day functioning of the AFIS, as well as for blurring the distinction between news and public relations in the Department of Defense. She is responsible for launching the soldier-based “America Supports You” PR effort and the Bloggers’ Roundtable, after being given directions to take advantage of so-called “new media” techniques by her former boss, Victoria Clarke.
The National Association of Government Communicators recognized Barber as a “Communicator of the Year” for 2007.
According to Stars and Stripes, there hasn’t been a permanent AFIS director for about five years. Responsibility for the AFIS has at times been an ad hoc affair since the last director departed.
Barber tendered her resignation in October 2008.
Allison Barber (Center for Media and Democracy)