New Report Shows Further VNR Misuse by Stations

Nov 14, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Ira Teinowitz and

Michele Greppi

The misuse of corporate-funded video “news” releases by local TV continues, according to The Center for Media and Democracy and the national media reform organization Free Press.

A report released Tuesday by the CMD claims that 46 TV stations, including eight stations that had been caught before, used VNRs and did not properly disclose that they were press releases made to look like news reports.

“Our new report shows that news audiences continue to be deceived by fake TV news,” Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the CMD and co-author of the report, said. “Of the 54 VNR broadcasts that we documented, only two offered clear disclosure of the client behind the segment. Nearly 90 percent of the time, TV stations made no effort to disclose at all.”

In August, the Federal Communications Commission sent letters to the 77 stations listed in the previous CMD report on stations misusing VNRs.

At a news conference Tuesday during which the two organizations announced they had filed a new complaint with the FCC, the two Democratic FCC commissioners questioned whether the latest report indicated broadcasters have gone too far.

“Every citizen has a right to know where his or her news is coming from, especially in this current news environment where news and entertainment are mixes,” Commissioner Michael J. Copps said. He added that he expected the FCC to look closely at the report and also said the report renewed his view that the commission needs to look more closely at the impact of media ownership changes.

More than 80 percent of the stations named in the new report are owned by large media companies and conglomerates.

Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein said the study showed broadcasters are ignoring FCC and their own ethics guidelines in running VNRs without disclosure.

“All the warnings in the world don’t help if nobody’s listening,” he said. “Some stations have developed such an ingrained pattern of running VNRs that a direct investigation by the FCC isn’t enough to snap them out of it. It’s time to start handing out citations.”

Mr. Adelstein said the issue isn’t one of the First Amendment. “The issue is not free speech-it is identifying who is actually speaking. Stations that fail to disclose who is behind these stories show a lack of respect for their viewers, as well as the FCC and the broadcast industry’s ethics guidelines.”

However, the Radio-Television News Directors Association in October urged the FCC to halt its investigation, which the professional organization claimed was based on “a biased and inaccurate study,” because FCC rules do not apply in most cases where there is no quid pro quo and because the FCC investigation has had “a chilling effect on the dissemination of newsworthy information.”