RTNDA urges commission to drop VNR inquiry

The Radio-Television News Directors Association asked the FCC Oct. 5 to stop its ongoing enforcement investigation into the use of video news releases (VNRs) by local TV stations and to rescind letters of inquiry sent in August to 77 stations.

In the letter, the RTNDA cited four reasons to cease what it describes as the commission’s “unprecedented intrusion into newsroom operations,” including:

  • A biased and inaccurate study upon which the FCC action apparently is based;
  • Previous FCC indications that sponsorship identification rules do not apply in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material;
  • Initiation of the action before the FCC has concluded a pending proceeding regarding VNR use;
  • The chilling effect the action has had on the dissemination of newsworthy information.

The letter finds fault with a study of the use of video from 36 VNRs by 77 stations from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in Madison, WI, apparently used as the basis for the FCC action. Referring to the study, the RTNDA letter said, “Upon even cursory inspection… it is apparent that the piece is far from a ‘well documented and researched report.’”

In an appendix submitted to the commission with the letter, the association said more than half of CMD’s allegations (56 out of 98) were unsupported by accompanying video. Additionally, the RTNDA found more than 20 instances in which stations made appropriate disclosures, used VNR material in stories critical of the companies or products behind the VNRs, edited out the corporate overtones or where it was obvious to viewers what interests were represented by the spokespeople used.

The RTNDA letter told the commission that the CMD report “does not constitute a credible basis upon which the commission can justify the extraordinary step of inserting itself into broadcast newsrooms and questioning their exercise of editorial discretion.”

For more information on the issuance of the letters of inquiry, see "FCC investigates use of video news release."

To read the RTNDA letter in its entirety, visit www.rtnda.org/foi/vnr_filling.pdf.