The FCC is looking to add disclosure requirements for television news programs that use material from a sponsor, according to a recent Washington Post article, and the industry’s news voice – the Radio Television Digital News Association, says the appropriate time to name the source is when the content airs.
According to the Post, watchdogs are concerned that some news content is in fact being run to the benefit of sponsors, and weak disclosure requirements make if difficult for viewers to sort out what is actual station-generated news and what is not.
The use of VNRs – video news releases – can be a part of this practice.
RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender stated in no uncertain terms, “The time and place to inform the viewer [about sponsor connections] would be at the time something airs, not at the end of the show. That is the best and most appropriate disclosure. We make an assumption, and I suppose many viewers do, that something they see on a newscast is produced by the news organization they’re watching. If it’s not, then simply tell the viewer or listener when it’s on the air.”
RBR-TVBR observation: This issue has been relatively dormant for a few years after getting a good bit of attention – partly due to a special interest in the topic from former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. At the time, RTDNA strongly made the case that there was nothing wrong with VNRs. It is somewhat refreshing to see it making the case, equally strongly, that they must be used responsibly and ethically.