A Fox O&O in Minneapolis-St. Paul and an Access.1 NBC affiliate peripherally in the Philadelphia DMA have both been hit with fines by the FCC for running video news releases (VNRs) during news programming without divulging the companies behind their production.
The Fox station is KMSP-TV, licensed to Minneapolis. The station ran a VNR that came from General Motors. It was about the coming of warm weather and how that leads to an uptick in the sale of convertible automobiles. It mentioned GM, and contained 12 shots of three different GM-produced convertibles, and not a single competing convertible from any other manufacturer.
FCC said that even though, as the station attested, it received no consideration in return for running the VNR, viewers still needed to be alerted to the fact that the piece, which focused exclusively on GM products, also came from GM.
The Access.1 station is WMGM-TV in Wildwood NJ, a community in the extreme southeast coastal portion of the state south of Atlantic City. Its news report was catching a cold while traveling, and it came to the station in the form of a VNR produced for Matrixx Initiatives, maker of Zicam, which – you guessed it – is a cold remedy, which was the only remedy other than chicken soup mentioned and the only remedy mentioned by brand name. Zicam was on camera four separate times. Neither Matrixx or Zicam was mentioned as a source of the report.
Both stations were fined $4K.
RBR-TVBR observation: This was an issue a few years back that became a hearing topic on Capitol Hill and was a pet issue of former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Basically, a VNR is a press release for TV – for example, footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon was a VNR (yes, now it can be revealed –the networks were unable to get reporters on the scene for this one!).
Press releases aren’t intrinsically bad things – they get word out to a wide variety of interested parties all at once. However, they can also be self-serving attempts to sneak in a free plug for a company. A VNR is still OK, if the station wants to run with it, as long as the company behind it is identified. Obviously, the FCC is starting to enforce this. Forewarned is forearmed.