"Still Not the News" — For Immediate Release
Diane Farsetta or Daniel Price, CMD, (608) 260-9713
Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x 25
'Still Not the News' report names 46 stations airing VNRs, including 10 already under FCC investigation
November 14, 2006
WASHINGTON — The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press today unveiled evidence that television stations continue to insert corporate-funded PR videos into their newscasts without proper disclosure.
A new CMD report, titled "Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs," documents 46 TV stations that aired corporate video news releases, or VNRs—sponsored segments produced to mimic independent news reports.
The full report, including video footage of the VNRs and the TV newscasts that incorporated them, is now online at www.stopfakenews.org
"Our new report shows that news audiences continue to be deceived by fake TV news," said Diane Farsetta, CMD senior researcher and co-author of the report. "Of the 54 VNR broadcasts that we documented, only two offered clear disclosure of the client behind the segment. Nearly 90 percent of the time, TV stations made no effort to disclose at all."
FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein will join the two groups in a phone press conference announcing the report today.
"Still Not the News" is a follow-up to CMD's April 2006 report, "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed." The earlier report named 77 TV stations that had aired VNRs. Not once were the sponsors of the segments disclosed to news audiences.
In August, the FCC launched an investigation into VNR usage, sending letters of inquiry to the owners of all 77 stations. Recently, the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) urged the FCC to halt its investigation. And a new consortium of broadcast PR firms, the National Association of Broadcast Communicators, is promoting industry self-regulation. Yet at least eight of the stations already under investigation by the FCC aired VNRs in the past six months without disclosure, according to the new report.
"Not only should the FCC investigation continue, another one should be launched to address the incidents documented in our new report," said Daniel Price, CMD research consultant and co-author of the report. "Television stations and industry groups have proven incapable of addressing the issue themselves."
The new report documents news broadcasts of VNRs from major corporations, such as General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate Insurance and Novartis. One VNR, funded by a lobbying firm that represents ExxonMobil, claimed that there is no link between global warming and more severe hurricane activity.
More than 80 percent of the stations snared in CMD's research are owned by large media conglomerates - including stations owned by News Corp., Tribune, Gannett, Disney, the Washington Post Co., Sinclair Broadcasting, Media General and Univision.
"The evidence suggests a strong tie between media consolidation and the use of deceptive, pre-packaged propaganda," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, which organized an activism campaign that has generated tens of thousands of letters to the FCC protesting fake news. "Corporate PR firms offer local stations VNRs knowing there's a built-in incentive to use them. By dressing up fake news as local reporting, stations cut costs. But viewers have no way to know they're being duped."
Free Press and CMD also will file a formal complaint with the FCC, asking the agency to expand its ongoing investigation into undisclosed VNRs. The groups urged the agency to clarify disclosure requirements and penalize all stations that air fake news.
For more information, see www.stopfakenews.org or www.freepress.net/fakenews
The Center for Media and Democracy (www.prwatch.org) is a nonprofit, public interest organization that strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism.
Free Press (www.freepress.net) is a national, nonpartisan organization that seeks to increase informed public participation in media policy and to promote a more competitive and democratic media system.