John Stauber, (608) 279-4044
Diane Farsetta, (608) 260-9713
On Friday, October 5, Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) founder and executive director John Stauber will debate broadcast lobbyist Kathleen Kirby, as part of the Society of Professional Journalists's (SPJ's) annual convention. The debate, titled, "Paid and Played: The Ethics of Using Video News Releases," will run from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (address 400 New Jersey Avenue, NW, room Columbia A).
CMD has long been critical of video news releases (VNRs), public relations videos that mimic television news reports and are frequently aired, without disclosure, during TV newscasts. In 2006, CMD released two investigative reports on VNRs: "Fake TV News" and "Still Not the News." The reports document VNR broadcasts on more than 100 TV stations across the country. Along with the media reform group Free Press, CMD filed formal complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the agency to sanction these TV stations for their undisclosed VNR broadcasts.
Over the past week, the FCC has issued five fines, in direct response to CMD's investigation and complaints. These are the first-ever fines for undisclosed VNRs, or "fake TV news." Especially noteworthy is the FCC's finding that VNRs must be disclosed, even when TV stations are not paid to air them, and even when the VNRs do not deal with political or controversial topics.
"I salute the SPJ for recognizing the importance of this issue," said CMD's John Stauber. "Once again, however, the nation's TV news directors have ducked the debate by sending their attorney and lobbyist to defend their widespread use of fake TV news."
Stauber will be debating Kathleen Kirby, a lawyer with the powerful Washington DC firm Wiley Rein & Fielding and a lobbyist for the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA). RTNDA has consistently opposed actions to ensure VNR disclosure. On behalf of RTNDA, Kirby authored an October 2006 comment to the FCC that made numerous unsubstantiated charges against CMD and its VNR reports. In the comment, Kirby maligned CMD as being "unrelenting in its hostility to the principles of free speech and a free press."
"I hope that Ms. Kirby will apologize for her inaccurate and offensive comments against CMD at Friday's debate," said CMD senior researcher Diane Farsetta, who co-authored the two VNR reports with CMD research consultant Daniel Price. "The FCC's recent announcement of five fines for undisclosed VNR broadcasts -- likely just the first of many more to come -- further proves the validity of our research. The FCC deserves special thanks for seeing through the self-interested arguments of broadcast lobbyists and public relations executives, and taking action to ensure the viewing public's right to know."
"In addition to lobbying against disclosure, broadcasters have almost universally failed to report on the VNR issue," added John Stauber. "Even the pop music group Milli Vanilli had more integrity. When they were caught faking, they apologized and stopped trying to pass off someone else's singing as their own."
The Center for Media and Democracy (www.prwatch.org) is a nonprofit, public interest organization that strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism.