April 07, 2006

How low can US television journalism go? [Part 2]

KOKH anchors present a VNR

KOKH-25 presents a video news release from Intel, just like it was a real news story.


If advertisers buying their way into TV newscasts isn't bad enough [see the post above], fake news stories continue to show up on US television. You might remember the controversies that arose when it came out that Dubya's administration was hiring PR firms to produce fake news storeis—'video news releases'— and that TV stations were airing these VNRs as real news. [For examples, see Magpie posts from 2004 here, here, and here.]

If anything the situation is worse now that it was a couple of years ago. According to a study from the Center for Media and Democracy, at least 77 TV stations aired 'video news releases' or 'satellite media tours' during the past 10 months, and failed to let viewers know that those stories were provided by PR firms — not produced by their own reporters. These fake news items were aired 98 different times in TV markets that include more than half of the people in the US.

Check out these highlights taken directly from the report summary:

  • KOKH-25 in Oklahoma City, OK, a FOX station owned by Sinclair, aired six of the VNRs tracked by CMD, making it this report's top repeat offender. Consistently, KOKH-25 failed to provide any disclosure to news audiences. The station also aired five of the six VNRs in their entirety, and kept the publicist's original narration each time.

  • In three instances, TV stations not only aired entire VNRs without disclosure, but had local anchors and reporters read directly from the script prepared by the broadcast PR firm. KTVI-2 in St. Louis, MO, had their anchor introduce, and their reporter re-voice, a VNR produced for Masterfoods and 1-800 Flowers, following the script nearly verbatim. WBFS-33 in Miami, FL, did the same with a VNR produced for the "professional services firm" Towers Perrin. And Ohio News Network did likewise with a VNR produced for Siemens.

  • WSJV-28 in South Bend, IN, introduced a VNR produced for General Motors as being from "FOX's Andrew Schmertz," implying that Schmertz was a reporter for the local station or the FOX network. In reality, he is a publicist at the largest U.S. broadcast PR firm, Medialink Worldwide. Another Medialink publicist, Kate Brookes, was presented as an on-air reporter by four TV stations airing a VNR produced for Siemens.

  • Two stations whose previous use of government VNRs was documented by the New York Times, WCIA-3 in Champaign, IL, and WHBQ-13 in Memphis, TN, also aired VNRs tracked by CMD. The March 2005 Times article reported that WHBQ's vice president for news "could not explain how his station came to broadcast" a State Department VNR, while WCIA's news director said that Agriculture Department VNRs "meet our journalistic standards."

I don't think that this magpie needs to add anything after those examples. And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

You can read the summary of the CMD report here. The CMD's main webpage is here.

Posted by Magpie at April 7, 2006 01:19 AM | Media | Technorati links |