Las Vegas brouhaha over alleged paid news


An advertising agency, a car dealership and three big four network affiliates in Las Vegas are being accused by the fourth of covering a story about a liquidation vehicle sale as part of an advertising package. The complainant has taken its gripe to the FCC.

The complaining station is Sunbelt’s NBC KVBC. The implicated agency is Arrowhead Advertising; United Dodge Chrysler Jeep is the dealer; and the stations are Meredith’s Fox KVVU; Landmark’s CBS KLAS; and Journal’s ABC KTNV.

KVBC contends that Arrowhead approached it about running advertisements for the dealership, which was one of the many being closed by Chrysler. It wanted straight news stories about the dealer’s attempt to sell off its inventory, including on-site interviews. When the station said it was against the law to guarantee news coverage, it was left off the buy. KVBC contends that later, Arrowhead approached about a different dealership with a similar request, and said that KVBC’s refusal to play ball the first time is what kept it off the buy.

As for implicating the other three stations, it appears that KVBC is implying that since all three ran news stories between 5/22/09 and 6/22/09 that they did accept Arrowhead’s terms.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the complaint specifically says that they “knowingly entered into agreements and understandings with Arrowhead Advertising … and United Dodge Chrysler Jeep … for the production and airing of advertisements in the form of on-site interviews promoting the liquidation sale of cars whose franchise had been cancelled by Chrysler Corporation.” It charged that news programming was aired in exchange for the ad buys.

All three stations strongly denied the charges, and Arrowhead said they were “unequivocally false.” The agency said it that the Chrysler story was very hot at the time and reporters were calling there, not the other way around. It said KVBC was left off the buys because of poor ratings. Arrowhead also said it was aware of the separation required between media news and sales departments and would not do anything to disrespect it.

The Review-Journal noted, however, that KVBC was second in news at 5PM and 11PM and #1 at 6PM.

RBR-TVBR observation: KVBC may have an idea about how its own negotiations for the advertising package went, but there is no way on this planet that an FCC official, judge or other authority is going to allow the station to extrapolate those negotiations onto another station without hard evidence. If KVBC has no more than emails between itself and the agency, that still adds up to nothing (except maybe hearsay — and still nothing) against the other stations, and therefore no case at all. We will be very surprised if this one goes anywhere but nowhere.