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Senators Roll Out VNR Bill

Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a bill this week to require all video news releases produced by the government to contain a disclosure of the source of the material.

The Lautenberg-Kerry Truth in Broadcasting Act would back up a GAO ruling that VNRs distributed by the Bush Administration were a no-no because the government's role was not disclosed to viewers. The Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department subsequently ruled the same VNRs okey-dokey, prompting senators to make a law. If passed, VNRs will have to contain a disclaimer that runs for the duration of the piece.

Sen. Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens committed to holding a hearing and a markup on the bill in early May, according to the release from Kerry's office. It said that Lautenberg and Kerry introduced similar legislation as an amendment in mid-April, but withdrew it in exchange for the commitment from Stevens.

The use of undisclosed VNRs came to a clamoring climax last year when Washington-based flack-for-hire Karen Ryan closed a prescription drug law release with "I'm Karen Ryan, reporting." Several published estimates indicate that as many as 40 or more stations may have run the piece. Ryan went on to star in another VNR on the administration's No Child Left Behind initiative.