Senate Panel OKs Watered-Down VNR Labeling

Oct 20, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation Thursday afternoon that would require federal agencies to clearly label their sponsorship of pre-packaged news stories. But the actual language of the approved measure was so tame that industry officials who have resisted the labeling were hailing the bill as a victory.

The measure, as originally introduced earlier this year by a coalition of key Democrats led by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and John Kerry, D-Mass., would have required the government to continually disclose its sponsorship of video news releases, or VNRs, with the disclaimer “Produced by the U.S. Government.” Under the original bill, broadcasters and cable TV operators also would have been barred from deleting the disclosures.

The bill approved by the committee Thursday would require prepackaged news stories produced by the government to include a “clear notification” of the sponsorship, and not a continuous disclaimer. It would leave it up to the Federal Communications Commission to come up with rules for when stations must include the labels.

The approved bill also makes clear that the labeling requirements apply only when broadcasters and cable TV operators opt to air “prepackaged news stories” in their entirety, defining those as “a complete, ready-to-use audio or video news segment designed to be indistinguishable from a news segment produced by an independent news organization.”

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said the bill clears the way for TV news operations to continue using snippets of government-produced VNRs for B-roll in their own stories, as they do currently, leaving the issue of how to identify the material up to station news personnel.

“Our arguments seemed to be persuasive,” Ms. Cochran said.