Stops Short of Recommending Penalties for "Fake News"
INDIANAPOLIS -- Television's use of unattributed video news releases is irresponsible, misleading and could lead to increased control of the content of news reports by federal regulators. The Society of Professional Journalists urges broadcast companies to set their own house in order by using extreme caution and full disclosure when airing VNRs.
Press releases in video format, which are produced by in-house or hired public relations professionals to advance a company's products or an agency's agenda, have been around for years. However, they came to public attention more than two years ago when the Bush administration produced news reports to promote changes in the Medicare program. In many cases, these reports were aired without attributing the source, giving the appearance of a legitimate news story.
Now, VNRs are making real news again because of a report released this month by the Center for Media and Democracy. The center, after a 10-month survey, documented widespread use of footage from corporate news releases without any indication that they are lifted wholesale from the sources and aren't the product of the stations' own reporting.
The Center for Media and Democracy tracked 36 VNRs and identified 77 stations, collectively reaching more than half of the U.S. population, that used them at least once during the 10-month survey period. Many stations used the footage multiple times.
"There was not one disclosure [of the source of the corporate footage] in 98 instances," said Diane Farsetta, co-author of the report. Stations didn't balance or supplement the messages with independent fact-finding; sometimes they made it look like their own reporting, and more than a third ran VNRs intact.
As a result viewers have no way of knowing "when the news segment they're watching was bought and paid for by the very subjects of that 'report'," wrote Farsetta and her co-author, Daniel Price.
Fred Brown, co-chairman of SPJ's Ethics committee, said the Wisconsin-based center "deserves credit and thanks for once again bringing this deplorable practice to public attention."
SPJ would stop short of endorsing CMD's proposed solution: an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, clarification of corporate identification rules and penalties for "all stations that air fake news."
"It's never a good idea when government tells journalists what they can and cannot do in the content of their news reports," said Brown, a Sunday columnist for The Denver Post and former national president of SPJ. "We would oppose any expansion of the FCC rule. Instead, we would call on television to clean up its own act."
Amanda, it would appear that the stations referenced by the Center for Media and Democracy study could benefit by reading your in-depth post on the concept of transparency... =]
More importantly, however, what these findings clearly validate is the growing tendency among journalists to adopt lazy reporting practices, and this phenomenon does not pertain to just broadcast outlets. Most recently, I have worked with several experienced print reporters at some very high-profile outlets (names withheld to protect the guilty), and they just completely dropped the ball: did not perform any advance research, failed to take detailed and accurate notes during interviews, never bothed to check facts with me prior to going to print, and the list goes on and on. The results were crummy, poorly-written pieces, as one would expect. I am venting here, but this is a real issue which PR practitioners must deal with in today's fragmented media environment.
BTW, it's good to be posting on Strumpette. I have been very busy as of late...