Little Progress Cited In Identifying VNRs

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As promised, the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) and Free Press Tuesday released a report on 46 TV stations they say are airing corporate video news releases without disclosure in violation of FCC rules.

The stations include ones owned by News Corp., Tribune, Gannett, Disney, the Washington Post Co., Sinclair Broadcasting, Media General, and Univision.

Free Press and CMD are filing a complaint with the FCC asking it to broaden its VNR inquiry, which was prompted in part by the two groups first report  last April identifying 77 stations, some of whom also showed up in the second report,  that were airing the undiclosed VNRs.

Free Press is also asking the FCC to look at the relationship between media consolidation and the rise of VNR's. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps also said the commission should look into the relationship of VNR's and consolidation. Copps said that viewers have the right to know where their news comes from and whether it was "manufactured for profit," particularly, he said, as the line between news and entertainment was blurring.

Copps also said the FCC should "conduct further investigation, decide how the rules were violated, and take appropriate steps." He noted how many of the stations were owned by "big media companies," and said the FCC should be even more careful as it considers new ownership rules--which could potentially allow groups to own more stations.
Responding to news of the planned complaint, an FCC spokesman said: "As with all complaints filed with the commission, we will look into any alleged violations of our rules."

"Our new report shows that news audiences continue to be deceived by fake TV news," said Diane Farsetta, CMD senior researcher and co-author of the report, in announcing the report and complaint. "Of the 54 VNR broadcasts that we documented, only two offered clear disclosure of the client behind the segment [both from stations named in the first report]. Nearly 90 percent of the time, TV stations made no effort to disclose at all."

Farsetta said that the new report showed little improvement in identifying VNRs.

A recently formed consortium of VNR producers, which disputed the first study, was equally unimpressed with the second. “The new report appears to contain the same unsupported allegations and baseless charges made in the first one,” said Kevin Foley, president of the NABC, in a statement Tuesday.

“We reviewed the applicable rules and we presented a compelling legal case to the FCC showing that none of the CMD cases appeared to violate any FCC’s rules."

The Radio-Television News Directors Association, which was not available for comment at press time, was also highly critical of the first study and has asked the FCC to stop investigating stations over the issue. But it has also strongly urged news directors to identify VNRs and toughen their policies on them.

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