News for Sale

Bad public relations can kill public image much faster than any lawsuit. So that's probably why the government and corporate entities have gone the route of staging savvy, well-produced public relations spots for themselves. Or so the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports. In an investigation of Video News Releases (affectionately called VNRs), CMD found that from April 2006 through October 2006, 46 local stations across the country aired 33 different VNRs a total of 54 times; 90% of the stories aired offered no disclosure. "The total number of VNRs tracked for this study, 109, represents just 2% of the estimated 5,000 VNRs offered to U.S. television newsrooms over a six-month period"(CMD Summary). By FCC mandate (April 2005 Public Notice), VNRs "must clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material." Prompted by CMD's report, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched its own investigation. Consider that WTOK-11 in Meridian, MS, aired without disclosure a VNR titled, "Global Warming: Hot Air?," a segment ridiculing claims that increased hurricane activity is related to global warming. It was funded by TCS Daily and published by DCI Group, a PR and lobbying firm which counts ExxonMobil among its clients. "No wonder the public is having a hard time distinguishing between news and propaganda," said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in a statement. "Americans have a legal right to know that what appear to be independent news reports are actually bought and paid for by a private corporation."

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