Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy

FCC attacks the freedom of the press…. well not really….

Well it looks like the whole Video News Release (VNR) epidsode is set to run and run. 

News that the FCC has sent a notice to newscasters and producers of VNRs reminding them of their disclosure responsibilities, coupled with a recent Senate vote to prevent government agencies from funding ‘re-packaged news’ unless it contains clear notification that the content was funded by a federal agency has raised some concerns.

First up let me state that I am no expert on Video News Releases (VNRs) or on the FCC.  However, it seems to me that these actions are to be welcomed by anyone who values ethical practices and transparency.

As a consumer, I want to know that if I give a broadcaster my attention, that they make damn sure they disclose if a news story is including paid-for content in the same way the print media are supposed to flag advetorial. I don’t believe any organization or individual has the right to have their opinions broadcast as de-facto news without such a disclaimer.

However, while this all makes perfect sense to me, some others don’t agree.

Timothy Karr who is a campaign director at Free Press (‘a nonpartisan organization working to involve the public in media policymaking and to craft policies for a more democratic media system’) and has a blog call Media Citizen, was in contact to tell me that VNR producer D S Simon is completely against the idea.

In a press release, D S Simon railed that:

“Misdeeds by PR Firms and government PR people are to blame for yesterday’s FCC Public Notice on sponsorship identification rules of Video News Releases (VNRs), and it could have a chilling effect on freedom of the press.”

Douglas Simon, CEO of the company continued:

“While misdeeds by PR people (including government PR people) should be cracked down upon, I am concerned with government efforts to control the content of news programs. The notice points out that this disclosure is required on “controversial” stories not just VNRs and could limit the media’s right to quote whistleblowers or rely on unnamed sources–a significant blow for press freedom.”


Read that again.

So forcing organizations to disclose the source of a VNR being used in a television program is affecting free speech and could limit the media’s right to quote whistleblowers?

Reality check.  How in hell can they make that leap?

Last time I checked, it wasn’t whistleblowers who were peddling biased VNRs at the unsuspecting public. No.  The purveyors of VNRs and the broadcasters that run them as editorial content have misled their audience and in my opinion it’s right that this content should be clearly labelled.

I understand D S Simon’s need to protect their business but this message wasn’t thought through, just like all the best VNRs it’s missing that essential ingredient: credibility. 

It is interesting to note that in the recent PR Opinions survey, VNRs where listed as one of the major issues harming the image or Public Relations.  It that’s true then we, as a profession, should welcome better disclosure. VNR’s can provide an organization’s opinions on a given topic, they probably serve a useful purpose, but they should be clearly labelled.  After all, if the VNR is so effective, I’m sure the disclosure won’t be a problem….

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts..

Written by Tom Murphy

April 18, 2005 at 10:42 am

Posted in General

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