Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has asked the FCC to investigate the use of government-supplied video news releases by television news operations.
Critics of the Bush administration have questioned the production and distribution of video news releases that advocate various policies on several grounds. They argue that stations often fail to disclose that the government is the source of the report, which in effect misleads viewers into thinking that the information being presented resulted from normal reporting practices. Additionally, some said that the distribution and use of government-generated VNRs amount to payola.
In his letter to the FCC, Inouye said some broadcasters edit government VNRs in a way that makes it appear as if the resulting reports were the product of independent newsgathering. The practice appears to violate commission rules requiring that political broadcasts be attributed.
The use of government VNRs began during the Clinton administration; however, critics of the Bush administration contend that their use has become more refined.
During a mid-March press conference, the president defended the use of VNRs saying that the Department of Justice has determined that the releases are within the law because they are based on facts and do not advocate positions.