FCC Investigates TV Stations for Airing Fake News
Investigation into Video News Releases and Activist Pressure May Lead to Fines, Better Disclosure
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation of dozens of television stations, for airing corporate-sponsored and -scripted segments on news programs, without disclosing their sources.
The investigation comes in response to an investigative report by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and an online activist campaign spearheaded by Free Press. The official probe by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was reported today by Bloomberg News.
The report, titled "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed," identified 77 television stations across the country that aired corporate PR as news over a 10-month period. Not one station disclosed the clients behind these segments to its viewers.
"We commend the FCC for taking the issue of fake news seriously," said Diane Farsetta, the Center for Media and Democracy's senior researcher and the co-author of the report. "With the FCC's enforcement bureau getting involved, hopefully TV stations will finally practice full disclosure."
Although CMD tracked just 36 of the thousands of video news releases, or VNRs, distributed each year, it identified 69 TV stations that aired at least one VNR. Eight other stations aired satellite media tours, which are live but highly scripted interviews often scheduled and aired in conjunction with VNRs. The list of TV stations, along with footage of the VNRs and the newscasts that showed them, can be found at www.prwatch.org/fakenews/execsummary.
In conjunction with the release of the report on April 6, 2006, Free Press launched a "No Fake News" online activist campaign. Since then, more than 25,000 concerned citizens have contacted the FCC to urge the agency to enforce and strengthen its disclosure requirements.
"The FCC should be applauded for listening to its real constituents -- the American public," said Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press. "The official FCC probe puts the nation's biggest media companies on notice that their viewers won't stand for fake news on the public airwaves. We hope the FCC will back up its strong statements on covert propaganda with decisive action."
In its April 2005 Public Notice, the FCC stated, "Whenever broadcast stations and cable operators air VNRs, licensees and operators generally must disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material." The FCC declined to comment on today's report about the investigation.
CMD and Free Press also filed a formal complaint with the FCC last month, urging that all VNRs be accompanied by a continuous, frame-by-frame visual notification and verbal disclosure of their source. The complaint is available at www.freepress.net/docs/fcc_complaint_4-06-06.pdf.
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.
Free Press ( www.freepress.net ) is a national, nonpartisan organization working to involve the public in media policymaking and to craft policies for a more democratic media system.