Free Press presses FCC to crack down on fake news


There’s fake news of the type found on The Daily Show and similar fare, and then there are news reports delivered in the form of video news releases (VNRs) designed to promote the sender in one way or another. Watchdog Free Press and its wing are trying to get the FCC to start catching and fining stations caught in the act.

“The FCC has pledged to protect consumers by making stations disclose this kind of pay-to-play system,” said Free Press. “Under the agency’s rules, a TV station can be fined up to $37,500 every time it fails to disclose these agreements. In 2007, the last time we pushed the FCC to stop this practice, it started an investigation and even fined Comcast for airing fake news.” However, FP says enforcement has since ground to a halt. Meanwhile, it cites a Los Angeles Times report that the practice of using unattributed VNRs continues on.

FP says it’s fired off a letter to the FCC urging it to step up enforcement, and it is trying to get sympathetic citizens to participate in a click-and-send campaign asking the same thing of the Commission.

It provided a suggested message to send:

“I depend on my local TV station for news and information about the world around me. That’s why I am deeply concerned about the prevalence of Video News Releases (VNRs) and other forms of embedded advertising on local TV news.

“The FCC’s rules empower it to sanction stations that air fake news without disclosure. Yet broadcasters and PR firms continue to fool the public. Consumers have repeatedly asked the FCC to take action against this practice, to little effect.

“Now PR firms are developing new tactics to insert advertising into the news, like presenting spokespeople who pitch products they’ve been paid to promote as ‘experts’ on local news shows. Broadcasters, for their part, are taking advantage of weak disclosure rules.

“The FCC must strengthen and enforce its rules to ensure transparency on the public airwaves and protect TV news viewers from deceptive practices. We deserve to know when someone is paying to persuade us.”