Free Press Outs Unidentified VNRs

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Video news release critics Free Press and The Center For Media and Democracy are complaining that TV stations have been airing corporate video news releases without identifying them as such. They filed a complaint with the FCC.

The report, Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed, found 98 instances at 77 TV stations in which video news releases--36 in all--had been used without identification and in some cases with station graphics added to brand the stories. The report is available at www.prwatch.org/fakenews/execsummary.

"In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research," said the groups in a statement. "More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety."

Scheduled to appear at a press conference Thursday morning to unveil the study was Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who has spoken out against what he sees as deceptive programming.

Unidentified corporate VNRs are not actually against FCC rules, unless they are on  political or controversial topics. The groups want the FCC to require that all VNRs "be accompanied by a continuous, frame-by-frame visual notifications and verbal announcements disclosing their sources," and broadcasters "to file monthly public reports detailing their use of government or corporate-sponsored material."

Most of the examples were about child safety, shopping advice, holiday stories, food tips and toys, and cars, but there were couple of medical "breakthrough" stories provided by drug companies.

In June of last year, the Radio-Television News Directors Association argued that few stations use packaged VNRs, ones that mimic news stories with narration, "interviews" and even faux reporters, and that those that do almost always identify them.

That came in a filing to the FCC, culled from an informal survey of 100 members.

RTNDA has not reviewed the report, but President Barbara Cochran said Thursday that VNRs should be identified. She called on stations to review their politics and "make sure everyone in the newsroom is clear on what the policy is."

Some in Congress have been trying to change the law to require government-issued packaged VNRs to have to be identified, stemming from some unidentified Bush administration VNRs. The administration says so long as the VNR's are truthful, they are not propaganda. The Government Accountability Office saw it differently, saying they violated rules against spending government money on domestic propaganda.

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