Stevens Reschedules VNR Hearing


Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has scheduled a May 12 hearing on a bill mandating disclosure of government video news releases.

The hearing had originally been scheduled for April 28, but was postponed when the bill had not been introduced at least 48 hours before the scheduled hearing.

The bill, spearheaded by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), was to have been introduced in a slightly different form as an amendment to a fax spam prevention bill last month, but the senators agreed to withdraw it if Stevens would give them a hearing on the stand-alone bill, which will require government-issued video news releases to disclose their source, on-screen, throughout the duration of the piece.

The bill would resolve a dispute between the Government Accounting Office, which says unidentified packaged VNR's are illegal "covert propaganda," and the Justice Department, which says they aren't so long as they are truthful.

Government VNR's are essentially press releases, and packaged VNR's are ones that include several elements that make it look like a news story, including B-roll footage, interviews and actors playing correspondents.

An amendment has been adopted in the Senate that would also require VNR labeling, though not throughout the entirety of the piece as the Kerry-Lautenberg bill would.

According to the Kerry-Lautenberg bill, the government is required to disclose, and the broadcast or cable outlet is prevented from removing the disclosure.

Broadcasters would not, however, be liable for airing an undisclosed government VNR if the agency had failed to supply the disclosure.