VNR fine leaves questions in its wake


The 4K assessment against cable giant Comcast levied by the FCC over use of material contained in an video news release without sourcing has Comcast scratching its head and a watchdog barking in triumph and looking for more of the same. And at least one FCC commissioner was pleased.

"I applaud the Enforcement Bureau’s decision to enforce our sponsorship identification rules, and to propose, for the first time, a forfeiture fine for the failure to disclose the sponsor of a video news release," said Jonathan Adelstein (D). " Commission rules are clear: viewers have a right to know who is trying to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about what they are presented. I applaud Chairman Martin’s leadership, and look forward to quick action on the many other pending video news release complaints."

"We’re pleased to see the FCC is finally waking up to the issue of fake news," said Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press. "But the fine levied against Comcast is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Video news releases dressed up as real news were uncovered at more than 100 stations. We hope the FCC will soon fine those stations and issue clear guidelines to end the epidemic of fake news once and for all."

Free Press noted that the CN8 item in question was cablecast in 20 markets, including New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Free Press partner Center for Media and Democracy said it caught Comcast doing the same thing at least four additional times, and also said that at least two broadcast stations used the same exact VNR, for "Nelson’s Rescue Sleep," without ID, and is wondering if there will be additional FCC actions.

For its part, Comcast is still unconvinced that it did anything wrong. Sena Fitzmaurice, Senior Director, Corporate Communications, said, "We are perplexed by this Bureau action. The relevant statute does not cover cable programming, and even if it did, CN8’s programming was entirely consistent with the statute. The segments in question were chosen by journalists in the course of reporting, and Comcast received no consideration or benefit by using the material. We will reiterate these facts in our response to this Notice."

TVBR/RBR observation: As we noted yesterday, at 4K this is a relatively inexpensive warning shot. But we cannot help but note that both sides are not fully satisfied, and we also know that this issue has an FCC 8th Floor sponsor in Jonathan Adelstein. It will be very interesting to see if this FCC VNR action is an isolated incident or the Act One of an ongoing serial.