The Public Notice was precipitated, in part, by the "large number of requests" asking the FCC to "consider whether the use of 'video news releases' or 'VNRs' ... complies with the Commission's sponsorship identification rules." Those requests came from the more than 40,000 people who signed onto a petition circulated by the Center for Media and Democracy and the media reform group Free Press (you can still sign the petition, here), as well as from two U.S. Senators.
The FCC's Public Notice specifically focuses on instances where "payment has been received or promised to a broadcast licensee or cable operator for the airing of program material." But its implications are much broader, for two reasons. One is that the FCC rules obviously extend beyond instances of news "pay for play." The other is that, by requesting comments and stating its intention to more fully study and act on the issue (including by taking "appropriate enforcement action"), the FCC has publicly recognized "fake news" as an issue critical to, in their words, "a well-functioning democracy."
Here are a few interesting passages from the FCC's Public Notice:
- "All matter broadcast by any radio station for which any money, service, or other valuable consideration is directly or indirectly paid ... [shall] be announced as paid for or furnished." The Public Notice clarifies that this rule applies to television, but it also suggests that the less-recognized problem of audio news releases infiltrating radio news might be fair game. The phrase "other valuable consideration" suggests that the rule may cover all material provided to news broadcasters by third parties, since these freebies save local broadcasters significant time and resources.
- There is a "greater obligation of disclosure in connection with political material and program matter dealing with controversial issues." Surely the biggest "fake news" topics are hot precisely because of their controversial nature! The Public Notice adds that information about who is "paying for or furnishing the broadcast matter" on political or controversial issues must be maintained by local stations, "for public inspection at the location of its public file." Sounds like a great opportunity for local activism...
Here's what can you do right now, to help move the Stop Fake News! campaign forward:
- If you haven't yet, please sign the petition from the Center for Media and Democracy and Free Press, protesting the use of VNRs, by clicking here.
- You can call your members of Congress to voice your opinion on two bills seeking to reiterate and strengthen the ban on covert government propaganda, the Stop Government Propaganda Act in the U.S. Senate (S 266) and the Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 373).
- Stay tuned to the Center for Media and Democracy's website, Weekly Spin email list and quarterly publication PR Watch, to learn how you can get involved in the evolving campaign to stop fake news!