Activists Urge FCC to Investigate VNRs


Two media activist groups Monday filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission asking the agency to investigate broadcasters that air government-produced news reports without identifying their source.

The complaint was filed amid ongoing controversy over the Bush administration's use of prepackaged video-news releases to promote the White House's public-policy agenda.

The releases sometimes feature government spokespeople posing as TV reporters that stations can use as canned footage for their news reports. Critics say the practice misleads viewers because they are under the impression the information is being delivered by an objective reporter rather than a paid government official.

The complaints were filed by Free Press, a group opposing media consolidation and seeking more public interest obligations on broadcasters, and by the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch, a newsletter tracking practices of the public relations industry.

The Government Accountability Office, the auditing and government watchdog arm of Congress, that some goverment VNRs constitute "covert propaganda." The White House, however, stands behind its practice.

"Both the Bush administration and local broadcasters must be held accountable for this betrayal of the public trust," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "The FCC needs to take quick action to investigate and eradicate news fraud and enforce the existing laws against payola. Congress must enact new laws that will stop government-funded fake news from airing without a disclaimer."

"Not labeling fake news produced by the government or corporations constitutes news fraud, plagiarism, and violates the most basic ethical standards of journalism," said John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. "Fortunately, there is a simple solution for TV news producers: Do not use VNRs, or, if you do, label them on-air showing who provided and paid for them."