Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price: A follow-up multimedia report on television newsrooms' continuing use of fake news provided by PR firms

Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs
A follow-up multimedia report on television newsrooms' continuing use of fake news provided by PR firms
Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price
Center for Media and Democracy

This report includes:

Video footage of 33 video news releases (VNRs), plus the television news segments that incorporated them;

A list of the 46 television stations, by state; and
Sections on frequently asked questions about VNR disclosure and policy issues, and on research methodology.

In Brief

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.

Report highlights include:

WTOK-11 in Meridian, MS, aired without disclosure a VNR titled, "Global Warming: Hot Air?" The segment ridiculed claims that increased hurricane activity is related to global warming. The VNR was funded by TCS Daily, a website then published by the PR and lobbying firm DCI Group, which counts ExxonMobil among its clients.
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.

To Read the rest of the report, click on links to videos of fake news, and access other resources on fake news

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