Despite a federal investigation, not to mention embarassment, TV stations are still using pre-packaged video press releases in their broadcasts without disclosing the source of the material.
Following up an earlier investigation, the Center for Media and Democracy found 48 instances in a six-month period where local stations aired the so-called “video news releases,” reports sent out by PR firms to make their case about controversial topics. For instance, WTOK-TV in Meridian, Miss., aired a report riduculing claims that hurricanes were connected to global warming. But the report came to the station from a Washington D.C. lobbying firm that counts ExxonMobil among its clients.
The FCC launched an investigation of the practice in August. The feds had earlier warned that stations “must clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material.”
Other examples cited in the Center’s study:
“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).”
Update: Radio and Television News Directors Assn. says that the study contains inaccuracies and that some of the incidents cited were newsroom errors or isolated incidents. It’s been critical of the FCC’s inquiry, saying that it was an extraordinary step” of “inserting itself into broadcast newsrooms.”