A FOX News station has been sent a notice of a proposed fine for airing fake news in the form of a "video news release" (VNR) without disclosing that the "news" segment featuring General Motors was produced to promote GM's cars.
As Jonathan Make reports in Communications Daily, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of a proposed fine to FOX's Minneapolis affiliate for what amounted to a commercial for GM's convertibles masquerading as news. The VNR had been provided to the station by "FOX News Edge," which is described as "a news service for broadcast stations affiliated with the FOX Network."
In response to the FCC's investigation, which was initiated as a result of a complaint by the Center for Media and Democracy and Free Press, FOX claimed it should not be subject to any fine because regulating this activity would "encroach" on its "editorial discretion." By editorial discretion, FOX seems to be indicating that it has a right to use its newscasts to promote products via "news" segments without any disclosure to viewers. FOX also tried to defend its actions by arguing that its affiliate did not receive any payment for airing the VNR and that the VNR was not of any public importance. It also argued that using the VNR was no different than relying on a "press release" without further disclosure.
The FCC defended its sponsorship identification rules, which it determined were violated by FOX, as "grounded in the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them." The FCC also noted that the VNR itself is a thing of value when given to a news station because of its production costs and savings. Accordingly, the FCC today announced an intent to fine the FOX affiliate that aired the VNR $4000.
The FCC also issued a similar notice to Access 1, a licensee of WMGM-TV in New Jersey, for airing a VNR promoting the use of the cold medicine Zicam, which had been produced for the product's maker, Matrixx Initiatives. The FCC noted that this VNR was specifically named in the joint complaint filed by CMD and Free Press.The stations have 15 days to pay the fines or respond to the notices issued by the FCC.
This is the first action on the complaint since 2007, when Comcast was fined $20,000 for airing VNRs. CMD told Communications Daily it is pleased the FCC is continuing to look into these matters, since the practice of using VNRs had not gone away.