The Center for Media and Democracy has conducted a study that documents the use of Video News Releases from corporations seeking to promote their products through positive news coverage. These VNRs are produced by corporate PR firms and designed to look like actual news reports. The stations that air them do not disclose their origin and, even worse, often re-record introductions and voice-overs with their own reporters to integrate them further into the station’s broadcast. They also do not fact-check any of the claims made by the VNRs.
The disparity in perceptions about VNRs is demonstrated in a report in the New York Times. They cite Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, as charging that regulating VNRs amounts to government intrusion into the affairs of news broadcasters. Then they quote FCC commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, calling the practice a, “disgrace to American journalism” and evidence of “potentially major violations” of F.C.C. rules.
Clearly the RTNDA is more concerned about preserving the right to distribute propaganda than they are about preserving the integrity and credibility of television journalism. And they obviously don’t care much about the public’s right to know either.
But Ms. Cochran is right on one level when she says, “It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.” While the FCC should be monitoring deceptive practices in the press, the stations are not prohibited from behaving ethically on their own. That may be a lot to ask of an industry that has also aired VNR propaganda produced by government agencies and found to be illegal.
FreePress.net has more info on this and makes it easy for you to communicate your views to the FCC. It only takes a minute, but its impact can be substantial.