An exposé by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free
Press reveals that corporate propaganda has infiltrated local television news
across the country.
CMD, which conducted the investigation, caught 77 local stations that had slipped
corporate-sponsored “video news releases” — segments promoting
commercial brands and products — into their regular news programming.
These advertisements were passed off to unsuspecting viewers as legitimate news
This deception is a breach of the trust between local stations and their communities.
By disguising advertisements as news, stations violate both the spirit and the
letter of their broadcasting licenses, which obligate them to serve public interest.
Tell the FCC to Crack
Down on Local News Deception
the Center for Media and Democracy’s Full Report
Uncover Fake News in Your
The Big Media Profit Motive
More than 80 percent of the stations snared in the investigation are owned by
large conglomerates. A list of the worst offenders reads like a who’s
who of big media, including stations owned by:
Sinclair Broadcast Group
Clear Channel Communications
News Corp/Fox Television
The evidence suggests a strong tie between media consolidation and the use of
deceptive, pre-packaged propaganda.
There’s a reason for this: VNRs are free. Reporting news that’s
meaningful to local communities isn’t. By opting to air a VNR instead
of sending a reporter into the field, station owners save a fortune.
Corporate PR firms offer local stations VNRs knowing there’s a built-in
incentive to use them. By dressing up fake news as local reporting, stations
cut costs and increase profits.
Put Your Local Station on Notice
On April 6, we delivered a formal
complaint to the FCC, urging the agency to take immediate and strong action
to stop this widespread abuse. The CMD investigation — sampling less than
1 percent of local newscasts — exposed only the tip of the iceberg. It’s
likely that fake news reports have been aired on hundreds of other local newscasts.
Free Press and CMD continue to pressure Washington policymakers to guard our
airwaves against the spread of fake news.
Help us send a strong message to the FCC: Investigate this abuse by local news
stations, enforce and clarify exisiting rules and penalize all broadcasters
that truck in fake news.
Tell the FCC to Stop
Fake Local News
Report Faults Video Reports Shown as News
By DAVID BARSTOW
New York Times
Many television news stations, including some from the nation's largest markets,
are continuing to broadcast reports as news without disclosing that the segments
were produced by corporations pitching new products, according to a report to
be released today by a group that monitors the news media.
Television news directors have said that the segments, known as video news
releases, are almost never broadcast, but the group assembled television videotape
from 69 stations that it said had broadcast fake news segments in the past 10
The new report was prepared by the Center for Media and Democracy, which is
based in Wisconsin and which describes itself as dedicated to "exposing
public relations spin and propaganda."
The report said none of the stations had disclosed that the segments were produced
by publicists representing companies like General Motors, Capital One and Pfizer.
The center also said that many of the 69 stations took steps to blend the fake
segments into their news broadcasts. Some had their news reporters or anchors
read scripts supplied by corporations, the report said, and many had altered
screen graphics to include the station's logo.
The report said that a few stations had introduced publicists as if they were
their on-air reporters. Only a handful of stations added any independently gathered
information or videotape, it said.
The 69 stations reach about half the population of the United States.
The report is noteworthy because the use of video news releases has come under
fresh scrutiny in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission.
Congress and the F.C.C. took up the issue last spring after The New York Times
reported that the federal government had produced hundreds of video news releases,
many of which were broadcast without a disclaimer of the government's role.
Congress passed legislation temporarily requiring videos from federal agencies
to clearly disclose the government's authorship.
The F.C.C. warned that stations broadcasting video news releases "generally
must clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship
of the material that they are viewing."
The agency threatened to fine violators and said it would study whether new
regulations were needed.
Television news directors have resisted new rules. They have said that video
news releases are an isolated problem. Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television
News Directors Association, has compared the releases to the Loch Ness monster.
"Everyone talks about it, but not many people have actually seen it,"
The Washington Times quoted her as saying last summer.
Station managers promised vigilance, and the directors association published
guidelines that said video news releases should be used sparingly and always
with their origins fully disclosed to viewers.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Cochran said new regulations were an unnecessary
and potentially dangerous government intrusion into television journalism. "Where
does it stop?" she asked, adding, "It is up to the individual stations
to look at their practices and tighten up."
The new report says the guidelines are often disregarded.
The center planned to release its findings today on its Web site and at a news
conference in Washington. On the Web site, www.prwatch.org, viewers will be
able to view the original video news releases and watch how local stations used
The center presented its findings yesterday to F.C.C. officials, including
Jonathan S. Adelstein, a commissioner who has criticized video news releases.
In an interview, Mr. Adelstein called the cases in the report a "disgrace
to American journalism" and evidence of "potentially major violations"
of F.C.C. rules.
"I'm stunned by the scope of what they found," he said. "I guess
they found the Loch Ness monster."