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New VNR Catches Prove the Fake TV News Problem Continues

From Center for Media and Democracy, Free Press, October 11, 2007
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press today unveiled evidence that, despite mounting pressure from the public and the Federal Communications Commission, television stations continue to air public relations videos without disclosure.

CMD identified three recent instances where a single television station aired entire, pre-packaged video news releases (VNRs), which are sponsored segments designed by PR firms to mimic genuine news reports. The new catches, all involving WGTU-TV 29 in Traverse City, Mich., can be seen at www.prwatch.org/fakenews3/summary.

“Stations continue to air fake TV news, even though the FCC has repeatedly stated that VNRs must be disclosed,” said Diane Farsetta, CMD senior researcher. “While the FCC recently announced that it will fine Comcast for five VNRs, more must be done to ensure the public’s right to know. Not disclosing fake news benefits TV stations, PR firms and their corporate clients — everyone except the millions of Americans who rely on TV news daily.”

In a complaint filed today with the FCC, Free Press and CMD urged the agency to act on pending VNR complaints involving more than 100 TV stations, and to clarify VNR disclosure requirements. The pending complaints came out of two earlier CMD reports, “Fake TV News,” released in April 2006, and “Still Not the News,” released in November 2006.

“The public has the right to know fake news when it sees it,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. “While the Comcast fines are a good start, the FCC must sanction all TV stations that violate its sponsorship identification rules. Otherwise, news viewers will still be left in the dark.”

The ongoing FCC investigation was launched in response to tens of thousands of letters sent by concerned citizens, after they were alerted by Free Press and CMD. In August 2006, the FCC issued letters of inquiry to the owners of the 77 stations named in the “Fake TV News” report. The station responses were due by mid-October 2006. The FCC has now had this information for a year, but not acted on it.

The Comcast fines came out of the second CMD report, “Still Not the News,” which identified 34 new stations that had aired VNRs without disclosure. The most recent VNR catches were aired by yet another station, an ABC affiliate owned by Virginia-based Max Media LLC.

The complaint filed with the FCC today is the groups’ third joint complaint on the VNR issue. It asks the agency to investigate the WGTU-TV VNR broadcasts and to clarify VNR disclosure requirements.

Center for Media and Democracy’s “Know Fake News” report and videos: http://www.prwatch.org/fakenews3/summary

FCC complaint from Free Press and CMD: http://www.freepress.net/docs/oct2007_fcccomplaint.pdf

Take action to stop fake news: http://action.freepress.net/campaign/fakenews3

For more information, see www.prwatch.org/fakenews3/summary or www.freepress.net/fakenews

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