Study Shows Videos Produced by PR Firms Continues to Air as “News”

A new study by the Center for Media and Democracy has found that television stations around the country continue to air corporate produced video news releases (VNRs) without identifying their source, despite an FCC investigation into the issue.

A new study by the Center for Media and Democracy has found that news stations around the country continue to air video news releases (VNRs) produced and sponsored by corporations. This is despite a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation undertaken in response to a previous study by the Center earlier this year. VNRs are corporate funded public relations videos that are designed to resemble independent news reporting and frequently promote products or even positions friendly to corporations or industries. For example, in addition to a host of VNRs promoting products, the study documented one VNR that was designed to promote doubt about global warming. According to the study, the VNR had ties to the oil giant Exxon-Mobil.

The aforementioned VNR promoting skepticism regarding global warming is just one of 54 VNRs (around 2% of the estimated 5,000 given to television stations in a six-month period) documented in the Center for Media and Democracy’s “Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs” study. The study, a follow up to the April 6, 2006 “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” study; found that news stations are still failing to disclose which entities produced VNRs. The Center found that 90% of the time television stations made no attempt to disclose the source of the VNR and often made it appear to be a legitimate news story by re-recording the narration, editing the segment, or even removing corporate supplied disclosure notices. Public relations firms produce the VNRs to integrate advertising into newscasts with the understanding that in an era of media consolidation, cuts in news staff, and emphasis on generating profits from newscasts, stations are likely to air VNRs as a means of reducing costs. As media ownership has consolidated the use of PR packaged news has increased as a way of enhancing profits, with 80% of the stations implicated in the Center’s research being owned by large media conglomerates such as News Corp, Tribune Broadcasting, Gannett, and Sinclair Broadcasting.

The initial study resulted in an FCC investigation, launched in August, in response to organizing that led to tens of thousands of letters being sent to the FCC according to Free Press, a group that organized a campaign against fake news. When the FCC began its investigation by sending letters of inquiry to the owners of the 77 stations cited in the original report, two industry groups responded with an active campaign designed to end the investigation. The Radio-Television News Directors Association sent a letter to the FCC in October urging that the investigation be halted and that the letters to the stations be rescinded, as it opposed any enforcement action by the FCC before the completion of a more general review of VNR usage and believes that sponsorship identification rules do not apply “in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material.” The Association, with a code of ethics for news reporting that would seem to prohibit the airing of unsourced VNRs, has failed to oppose such VNRs despite their self-proclaimed duty of setting standards for news gathering and reporting. The National Association of Broadcast Communicators, a consortium formed by fifteen public relations firms over the summer in response to the organized campaign against VNRs, is calling for voluntary industry self-regulation. Despite the PR industries attempt to dismiss the issue, it is clearly a problem, with eight of the stations under investigation by the FCC airing VNRs during the second study period.

Free Press has setup an online email action that readers can use to call for the FCC to extend its investigation, as well as state-specific email actions for states where VNRs have aired. The Center for Media and Democracy has documented the airing of three VNRs in Michigan and consequently readers are able to send a Michigan specific message to the FCC as well. VNRs aired in Michigan were documented on WWTV-9 in Tustin (Cadillac area), WILX-10 in Lansing, and WJBK-2 in Southfield (Detroit area).

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media //