Media watchdogs complain that stations continue to air fake news

Two media watchdog groups told the FCC last week that use of highly promotional video news releases (VNR) on TV newscasts are still widespread, almost never disclosed and are often the sole source for news segments.

This time, WGTU-TV Channel 29 in Traverse City/Cadillac, MI, was reported to the FCC for three recent violations by the Center for Media and Democracy and Free Press. The groups have reported violations of more 100 stations to the FCC, and the commission recently began issuing fines.

“As the widespread and undisclosed use of VNRs continues, we respectfully urge the Commission to expedite its consideration of previous VNR complaints, which are pending against 110 broadcast and cable stations,” the groups wrote to FCC members.

The reported undisclosed VNR broadcasts on WGTU occurred in August and September 2007. All three VNRs were highly promotional; two were aired without any disclosure whatsoever, the groups charged. A third had fleeting notifications that were included in the original VNR.

Ironically, one of the reported violations involved a VNR funded by Harris promoting its HD production technology. The video was promoted as a behind-the-scenes look at the use of HD by NFL referees.

The VNR — while ostensibly showing how new HD systems were helping football referees make better calls — mentioned Harris by name, showed the Harris logo and interviewed the company’s Rich Zabel, the groups said. The newscaster even read the tag lines provided by Harris without any disclosure. The other VNRs promoted Capital One’s financial education materials and John Deere tractors.

“Unfortunately, the widespread and undisclosed use of VNRs has become entrenched in television newsrooms,” the groups told the FCC. “Our research indicates that, despite the Commission’s laudable actions to date and broadcasters’ insistence that they can and will remedy the situation
themselves, more must be done to ensure news viewers’ right to know.”