October 20, 2005

Senate panel pushes disclosure in govt. news

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday
approved legislation by Democrats requiring government agencies
to disclose their role in prepackaged news stories they issue,
in a move to clamp down on what has been called covert

The Senate Commerce Committee approved the measure that
requires the packages to clearly notify the audience that the
U.S. government prepared the segment or funded it.

"The American people deserve the truth, not fake news from
their own government," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey
Democrat and sponsor of the measure.

The move follows sharp criticism by the Government
Accountability Office and Democrats about prepackaged news
segments, such as one by the Department of Health and Human
Services that touted a Medicare prescription drug law.

That story included a paid actor who narrated the piece
similar to television reporter. Some stations aired such
segments without a disclaimer that they were produced by the

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said it was a
misuse of funds and was a form of covert propaganda since it
failed to disclose the source.

President George W. Bush has previously defended such
videos, noting that they have been used for a long time by
government agencies. He has said it was up to local news
stations to disclose that the segments were government-made.

The Federal Communications Commission has warned
broadcasters and cable operators to properly identify the
source of any prepackaged video news releases they air,
particularly those that deal with political or controversial

The Bush administration has been in hot water for
prepackaged news as well as hiring conservative commentator
Armstrong Williams to tout a new education law, the No Child
Left Behind Act.

The GAO said the Education Department's contract with
Williams violated the law barring publicity or propaganda that
did not disclose that the government had sponsored it and
taxpayer funds were used.

U.S. prosecutors are now reviewing whether Williams did all
the work he was paid to do under the $240,000 contract,
according to Lautenberg.