No Justice For VNR Hearing


The witness list has been set for Thursday's Senate hearing on video news releases (VNRs). At press time, it included representatives from the FCC, the Government Accountability Office (GAO); broadcasters, and the PR folks, but nobody from Justice.

Justice and GAO are basically at loggerheads over undisclosed GI-issue prepackaged VNRs--the ones that combine interviews, "correspondents" and b-roll into stories. GAO says they are covert propaganda and that it is illegal to use government money for them. Justice says so long as they are truthful, they aren't illegal.

GAO is the Congress' controlling legal authority, while the Administration sides with Justice. The President is on the record saying he is OK with the undisclosed VNRs so long as they are truthful, citing the Justice opinion.

The hearing is on a bill--spearheaded by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.)--that would require the government to disclose the source of the VNR, on screen, throughout the piece. Broadcasters and cable outlets could not remove the disclosure, but would not be liable if the government neglected to identify it (though they could get in hot water with the FCC, which has rules against not disclosing outside material of a political or controversial nature).The Senate has already approved an amendment to another bill that would require government disclosure, though not throughout the entirety of the VNR.And the witnesses for the May 12 hearing are: FCC Commissioner Jonathan  Adelstein; Austin Schlick, acting FCC general counsel; Susan Poling, managing associate general counsel, Government Accountability Office;
Radio-Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran;
Douglas Simon, President & CEO, D S Simon Productions;and Judith Turner Phair, President/CEO, Public Relations Society of America.