Identifying corporate-sponsored news an “unnecessary burden” for TV stations

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, has told the FCC he thinks the creation of an online database for television stations to report corporate sponsorship of news reports and other programming is “burdensome and unnecessary.”

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Burr said that while the FCC requires “some” sponsorship IDs to be disclosed on air, it has never required stations to reveal all sponsorships. There is no reason to start now, the senator said.

The issue is important because many television stations air news segments bought and paid for by corporations, yet the segments are disguised to look like news segments reported by reporters at the station. Currently, stations are required only to state this sponsorship in the end credits to a news program. Such credits tend to go by so fast, and are often impossible to read.

The FCC has proposed instead that stations create an online database with this information revealed in it. Such a database is too great a burden for the stations to complete, Burr said, as is adding political files online.

The senator said he is concerned with the cost to stations of new reporting requirements including duplicate recordkeeping for smaller stations. He disagreed with the FCC’s contention that creating and hosting the online file would relieve TV stations of administrative burdens.

Burr also said that the FCC did not include a cost-benefit analysis of recordkeeping requirements and its annual cost to broadcasters, something that would have been extremely helpful to smaller stations.

A few years ago, several public interest groups complained to the FCC that television news operations were including commercial content in newscasts disguised as news. Burr was reacting to a proposed new regulation that would require all broadcast stations to disclose on the Internet all corporate interests behind their news content.

The FCC has determined that TV newscasts are increasingly loaded with corporate advertising masquerading as news, though the news program is portrayed as the work of independent journalists.

A recent “Washington Post” article documented a live interview segment in which a seemingly neutral reviewer recommended a series of products that the “reviewer” had been paid by sponsors to mention. The newspaper also said television stations across the country have brokered “exclusive” relationships with local hospitals in which the hospitals pay the station to be featured in health stories.

The FCC also said many television stations use “video news releases,” which is footage produced by a sponsor or corporate interest that appears to be shot and edited by the station.