The use of footage from video news releases without informing viewers of its origin during newscasts is again emerging as a likely FCC target with the release of a report that suggests the practice is widespread and self-policing measures have failed.
On April 6, Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price of the Center for Media and Democracy released on the Web a multimedia report called “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” and presented FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein with a copy of the report.
In the report, the pair present video from 36 video news releases and show how newscasts used them or related satellite media tours without informing viewers that the material came from VNRs. The report also identified 77 stations that used what it terms “fake news.”
At a press conference coinciding with the release of the report, Adelstein commended the researchers for documenting that “fake news is alive and well in the American media” and said it is incumbent upon the commission to “take the necessary steps to protect the viewing public.” According to Adelstein, it appears television “is incapable of effectively regulating itself.”
Adelstein pointed out that the commission does not have a quarrel with the content of news reports but rather with not informing viewers of the source of the material, which in effect may be considered to be “undisclosed promotions that may violate our sponsorship identification laws.” The problem with VNRs arises when viewers are lead to believe “they are watching a real news report when instead they are getting a subtle dose of corporate propaganda,” he said.
During the press conference, Adelstein called the report’s findings “stunning” and said they “suggest a willful ignorance of federal disclosure requirements, as well as basic journalistic ethics.”
The report, which looked at less than 1 percent of all VNRs, found 98 separate instances “where apparently undisclosed VNRs were used in newscast,” he said. The FCC should begin an investigation “into these possible violations of our rules and prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” he said.
Penalties include fines of up to $32,500 per violation, initiation of license revocation, a $10,000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment.
Following the release of the report, the RTNDA issued a statement on the VNR use and reminded station management of its responsibilities. The association also distributed a copy of its guidelines on the use of VNRs.
The RTNDA statement also warned the government that “intrusion in determining news content” would “undermine” the First Amendment. “Determining the content of a newscast, including when and how to identify sources, is at the very heart of the responsibility of electronic journalists, and these decisions must remain far removed from government involvement or supervision.”
For a copy of the multimedia report, visit www.prwatch.org/fakenews/execsummary.
For a copy of Adelstein’s remarks, visit www.fcc.gov.
For a copy of the RTNDA’s response, visit www.rtnda.org.
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