Group says VNR abuse continues

The Center for Media and Democracy has released a report that names 46 stations as failing to disclose their use of video news releases to the public.
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The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) Nov. 14 named 46 stations in 22 states as users of corporate video news releases (VNR) in their newscasts.

In 90 percent of the cases, the stations made no attempt to inform viewers that what they were watching came from a VNR, the group said.. The group, which previously authored a report that led the FCC to sending 42 letters of inquiry to 77 licensees to determine whether or not their use of VNR material was disclosed to viewers, made the most recent allegations in a report stemming from a six-month investigation.

“Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs” documents the latest findings, including VNRs that dealt with controversial issues, such as global warming.

Responding to the latest CMD report, the Radio-Television News Directors Association said that based on what it knew of the report “allegations regarding VNR use are inaccurate or represent isolated incidents made in error and at variance with station policies.”

Even if the report’s allegations are true, they provide no basis upon which the “FCC can justify the extraordinary step of inserting itself into broadcast newsrooms and questioning their exercise of editorial discretion,” the RTNDA statement said.

Pointing to the fact that FCC commissioner Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein joined the CMD press conference announcing the new report, the RTNDA said their presence was “particularly troublesome.” Both commissioners suggested investigations of the 46 stations named in the report would be forthcoming.

The RTNDA contends that because the stations or employees responsible for airing VNR material are not receiving consideration for doing so, they are shielded from any government action. Opponents counter that the VNR material in itself has a value to a station in terms of resources that don’t have to be spent to acquire the material in the release and therefore should trigger the investigation.

“RTNDA maintains that a reasonable reading of the FCC’s rules suggests that the sponsorship identification rules do not apply if stations or their employees have not received consideration for including VNR material in a broadcast,” according to the association.