April 6, 2006

US FCC official seeks probe of video news releases

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Federal Communications
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein on Thursday called for an
investigation into new accusations that television news
broadcasts are not disclosing the source of video news releases
they use.

Two consumer advocacy groups released a study that found 77
television stations over a 10-month period ending in March
failed to clearly tell viewers when they were using video news
releases and said that violated FCC rules that require such

"We should immediately open investigations into these
possible violations of our rules and prosecute them to the full
extent of the law," Adelstein, a Democrat, said at a news
conference sponsored by the groups, Free Press and the Center
for Media Democracy.

The FCC a year ago reminded television broadcasters and
cable operators to properly identify the source of video news
releases after incidents in which prepackaged news from
government agencies was used by stations without proper
sponsorship identification.

Congressional investigators also concluded last year that
prepackaged news stories created by the Office of National Drug
Control Policy constituted covert propaganda.

"If you want to air commercial or government fake news,
label it," said John Stauber, executive director of the Center
for Media Democracy.

The study's researchers said in some cases, newscasts had
reporters reading directly from scripts accompanying video news
releases that were prepared by public relations firms.

They said corporate sponsors of the releases, like General
Motors and Pfizer Inc., were not disclosed in the news segments
done by stations.

The groups filed their complaint with the FCC. They
declined to disclose how they obtained the news segments and
the video news releases, stating that doing so would compromise
their sources.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said the agency would review the

"The FCC has long-standing rules regarding sponsorship
identification," he said. "These rules serve the important
purpose of ensuring that the listening public knows when
someone is seeking to influence them."

The Radio-Television News Directors Association said in
response to the report that it was sending again to its members
guidelines set in April 2005 that state the origin should be
clearly identified if material in video news releases is used.

The association counseled against government regulation,
but urged station managers to beef up their policies on
disclosing the use of outside material.

"Determining the content of a newscast, including when and
how to identify sources, is at the very heart of the
responsibility of electronic journalists, and these decisions
must remain far removed from government involvement or
supervision," RTNDA said.

FCC Commissioner Adelstein also called on the agency to
clarify the disclosure obligations in its rules.

"I believe it is also time for the FCC to launch a
rule-making proceeding to clarify the obligations of all
entities involved in the production and broadcast of VNRs
(video news releases)," he said.