An article in Automotive News published earlier this month noted how General Motors has been providing motor vehicles to various radio/television personalities, and schedules tours of GM facilities and sit-downs with GM execs. One-air mentions have followed, and watchdog icon Ralph Nader thinks this is something the FCC should be investigating. The Detroit Free Press list of personalities in on the arrangement included Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Schessinger, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Hannity, Ryan Seacrest, Glenn Beck, Delilah, Laura Ingraham, John Tesh and others. The Automotive News article cited by Nader details praise for GM from Limbaugh and others. In his letter to the FCC, which was copied to Chairman Kevin Martin (R) and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein (D), Nader pointed out that a regulation "requires that, when anyone provides or promises to provide money, services or other consideration to someone to include program matter in a broadcast, that fact must be disclosed in advance of the broadcast, ultimately to the station over which the matter is to be aired. Based on this article, it appears that content of the broadcasts may violate the sponsorship identification rules." He added, "In any event, the FCC needs to investigate."
RBR observation: Pay-for-say, the quiet little brother of full-blown payola, has reared its ugly head in a number of different ways recently. There have been columnists and commentators hired by the Bush administration to surreptitiously promote policy; there have been flaps when so-called product experts have favorably reviewed items over the air, items they were paid to positively review. If somebody gives you a candy bar to try for free, and you praise it over the air, we think you’re OK as long as you acknowledge the prior transaction. But if you suddenly launch into a prose poem about the virtues of the candy bar without mentioning that you received it as a gift, you have found the thin ice. This is one of Adelstein’s pet peeves, and whether or not the GM flap has any legs in its own right, it will probably at the very least allow him to continue further inquiry into the whole payola/pay-for-say issue.