Free Press has filed a complaint with the FCC
asking it to open a new investigation into "covert commercials in news
programs" and to conclude investigations the FCC launched on
undisclosed video news releases (VNRs) that Free Press and others
complained about back in 2006 and 2007.
The group says the use of "covert
commercials," often without the required FCC disclosures, is on the rise.
In a letter to FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski asking for the investigation, it cited a Los Angeles Times column earlier this
about a toy promoter whose morning news recommendations were not identified as
paid for by toy companies, and a story from last April on a hospital-sponsored
health segment on KCBS.
Free Press also wants the FCC to crack down in
cases where "local stations may be abiding by the FCC disclosure
rules" but the public "still may not realize they are watching paid
In addition to wanting the FCC to better police
when broadcasters are violating the disclosure rules altogether, Free Press has
been pushing the FCC to increase the frequency, size and duration of
disclosures, which it argues are too minuscule and fleeting to provide adequate
"The problem of pay-to-play news is becoming
an epidemic on the public airwaves," said Free Press
Policy Counsel Corie Wright, who sent the letter to the FCC.
"People rely on the news to make major decisions about their lives including
where to seek medical treatment or how to vote. They deserve to know when a
newscast has been influenced by commercial considerations. And, more
importantly, they deserve to know when programming that looks like real news
coverage is in fact a commercial."