Watchdogs Center for Media and Democracy and Free Press recently celebrated 20K in FCC fines leveled at cable giant Comcast for airing unattributed video news releases. The duo is still awaiting possible action against numerous broadcast outlets on the same grounds, and has now fired off complaints about another. Max Media’s ABC WGTU-TV 29 Traverse City MI stands accused of running three such items without proper sourcing. "Stations continue to air fake TV news, even though the FCC has repeatedly stated that VNRs must be disclosed," said Diane Farsetta, CMD senior researcher. "While the FCC recently announced that it will fine Comcast for five VNRs, more must be done to ensure the public’s right to know. Not disclosing fake news benefits TV stations, PR firms and their corporate client — everyone except the millions of Americans who rely on TV news daily." The watchdogs used the occasion to push for action on the other pending cases.
RBR observation: There is nothing inherently sinister about the concept of a VNR, or an audio news release either. The NAB recently put one out on the DTV transition, and among other things it has a pretaped interview with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell discussing the topic. A station which cannot simply put a reporter on a cab to go across town and interview McDowell can use the footage to build a legitimate story in a genuine effort to bring important news about the transition to its viewers. On the other hand, if a news program puts on a story about the importance of a high fiber diet and it includes b-roll footage of a family sitting at a table eating ACME Bran Flakes, and the VNR was sent in by ACME, the source should be identified. Government releases are not necessarily benevolent, either, when they are used to push a point of view that is far from being a settled matter. At the FCC, Jonathan Adelstein has made this a pet project, and at a Senate hearing, there was general agreement on both sides of the aisle that some form of identification was appropriate when VNRs are used. We suspect we have not heard the last on this topic.