The ongoing controversy over video news releases has not stopped television stations from airing the fake news segments without attribution. Over six months, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) documented 46 stations in 22 states airing at least one VNR in their newscast. Of the 54 total VNR broadcasts described in this report, 48 provided no disclosure of the nature or source of the sponsored video. In the six other cases, disclosure was fleeting and often ambiguous. Ten of the TV stations named in this study were also cited in CMD's April 2006 "Fake TV News" report, for undisclosed VNR broadcasts. These findings suggest that station and industry codes of conduct--not to mention an ongoing investigation by the Federal Communications Commission--are not sufficient to ensure the public's right to know who seeks to persuade them via television news, the most widely used information source in the United States.
In 12 instances, television stations actively denied disclosure to their news audiences by editing out on-screen and verbal client notifications included in the original VNRs. WMGM-40 in Philadelphia aired a full-length VNR after making just one edit--to remove the on-screen disclosure. A WMGM-40 reporter re-voiced the VNR, following the original script nearly verbatim, but omitting the verbal disclosure at the end of the script.
In four instances, television stations not only aired VNRs without disclosure, but showed PR publicists on screen, as though they were staff reporters. KHON-2 (Honolulu, HI) and KFMB-8 (San Diego, CA) allowed publicist Mike Morris to "report" on Halloween traditions (and promote his client, General Mills), while KVCT-19 (Victoria, TX) and KSFY-13 (Sioux Falls, SD) showed publicist Kate Brookes "reporting" on medical advancements (specifically, machinery produced by her client, Siemens).
Ten television stations named in this study had previously been cited in the April 2006 "Fake TV News" report for undisclosed VNR broadcasts, including such major market stations as New York City's NY1 and WPIX-11, WDAF-4 in Kansas City, MO, and WSYX-6 in Columbus, OH. Only two of the 10 stations previously cited--Philadelphia's KYW-3 and Cincinnati's WCPO-9--provided disclosure of their more recent VNR broadcasts.
In April 2005, the FCC published a Public Notice requiring TV stations to "clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material." Some of the undisclosed corporate sponsors of the "Fake News" violating FCC regulations include Pfizer, Intel and General Motors. Many instances of notifications and disclaimers included in VNRs were deleted by the stations prior to broadcast. Other instances of editing VNRs was apparently used in an effort to circumvent disclosure rules. The report concludes that corporate sponsored VNR propaganda continue to be broadcast as "news," without disclosing sources, even though the FCC is claiming to be investigating undisclosed VNRs.
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