Despite the high-profile criticisms coming from Washington about TV station use of unidentified packaged video news releases, few TV stations use those packaged releases--ones that look like a complete news story--and the ones that do almost always identify the source.
That was the gist of comments from the Radio-Television News Directors Association to the FCC last week in its investigation into VNRs, culled from an informal survey of 100 members RTNDA conducted for its filing.
Bush Administration VNRs on health care and other issues were the target of Democrat criticisms, particularly after the Government Accountability Office delivered an opinion that unidentified VNR's were illegal government propaganda, while the Justice Department said they weren't so long as they were truthful.
President George W. Bush has said it was up to broadcasters to identify they if they have a problem, though some Democrat members of Congress--notably Senators John Kerry (Mass.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.) are trying to put the onus on the government to disclose.
VNR's are mostly excerpted or used as b-roll, said RTNDA, "and it is attributed."
RTNDA conceded that mistakes are sometimes made and material has gone out unattributed. It chalked those mistakes up to technology that makes distribution easier and the source harder to trace. But it said steps are being taken at news organizations to change that process to make sure they can be traced and identified, and pointed to RTNDA's long-standing guidelines requiring disclosure, saying executives are taking steps to ensure adherence.
It cautioned strongly against government action beyond existing regs requiring onscreen identification of any third party material on political or controversial matter.
“The government must be cautious in considering any action that could interfere with journalistic judgments or otherwise influence or prescribe news decisions or content,” RTNDA said in its filing. “The government would not dream of inserting itself into a print newsroom to dictate how newspaper editors utilize press releases. RTNDA urges the Commission, therefore, not to respond to the mistakes of a few by imposing rules that could affect the selection and presentation of newsworthy material.”