Is FTC Running a Deceptive Story?

Federal Trade Commission distributes DTV-transition release reformatted as news article.
Publish date:
Updated on

Part of the job of the Federal Trade Commission is to crack down on deceptive advertising. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission is attacking unattributed video-news releases.

But that hasn’t stopped the FTC from distributing a digital-TV-transition alert -- using information from the FCC, among others -- in the form of a press release that was formatted as a news story and bicycled to thousands of newspapers across the country.

The government has come under increasing scrutiny for the way it distributes information, from paying African-American radio host Armstrong Williams to talk up No Child Left Behind, to embedding Iraq analysts on cable news programs, to presenting the administration’s opinion, to producing unattributed VNRs on a variety of topics.

On July 1, the FTC had a feature article on the DTV transition pushed to community newspapers nationwide via the North American Precis Syndicate, a company that distributes press releases and VNRs in news-story format.

The article that NAPS sent out was a cut-down version of a consumer alert the FTC posted on its site June 27, but without any indication that it was created by the FTC. That alert -- which, in its full form, was also picked up by various Web sites that did source the FTC -- was produced with information from the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing the DTV-to-analog converter-box-coupon program.

An FTC spokesman said the commission sees no problem with reformatting the release as a news story. But Kelly McBride, ethics-group leader at the Poynter Institute, which mulls journalistic issues, checked out the link to the online DTV story and wasn’t as comfortable.