RTNDA petitions FCC

Org requests halt into inquiry of VNR use

WASHINGTON — The Radio and Television News Directors Assn. has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to stop its inquiry into local TV stations’ use of video news releases, sometimes derisively referred to as “fake TV news.”

In a letter sent Friday to the agency, RTNDA claimed that the FCC had launched its probe in response to a flawed study. FCC should therefore halt, org said.

Last March, a study by watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy alleged that 77 stations aired VNRs without identifying or disclosing their source. CMD defines VNRs as video clips “indistinguishable from traditional news clips” that are usually made by “corporations, government agencies, or nongovernmental organizations.”

“While expensive compared to the cost of a traditional news releases, they allow a sponsor to present its message without being filtered by journalists,” according to the CMD.

That org and another group, Free Press, complained to the FCC and urged an investigation. The agency eventually issued letters of inquiry to each of the 77 stations named in the study.

But according to RTNDA, “an examination of the evidence offered in CMD’s report finds collection of data was biased, conclusions were embellished and even erroneous and the facts inconsistent with the allegations.”

Moreover, RTNDA argued that the agency started its inquiry before even concluding an internal proceeding regarding VNR use.

“The FCC welcomes the RTNDA’s input,” an FCC spokesman said, and then emphasized that the 77 letters of inquiry it sent out “are just part of a routine fact-finding process that we undertake when we get a complaint.”

CMD is standing by its study, saying RTNDA is making “baseless assertions,” according to Diana Farsetta, senior researcher at CMD and a co-author of the study. “It’s hard to know where to begin on their misrepresentations. The VNRs are on our Web site, and people can see for themselves how they were used.”

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