The use of VNR’s (Video News Releases) has always been questionable. What’s a VNR? It’s a tape of what looks and sounds and purports to be a “news story” that is produced and written, usually, not by a tv news outfit but by a company or industry that wants to get a favorable report of its products or actions on the air. In other words, 2-3min commercials pretending to be news. In the last decade or so, these things have become a tidal wave washing over strapped local tv stations who often play them without identifying the source of the VNR–another way that tv “news” proves that it’s no such thing.
As far as I’m concerned, VNR’s are totally unethical and totally unacceptable and there’s no excuse for any tv station anywhere at any time to use them. They are bogus “news”, usually making false claims, and at a minimum stations ought to be identifying their producers and charging to run them just like they would any other ad.
As ethically questionable as corporate VNR’s are, how much more unethical is it when the VNR’s come from an incumbent’s govt agency during a political campaign? From today’s NYT:
WASHINGTON, March 14 — Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8.
The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”
But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government.
Your Corporate Govt in ACTION! The same tricks they used in business because they don’t see a difference between working for profit and working for the people. If it’s caveat emptor in business, it’s caveat citizen when they’re in govt. SOP, right? The only problem is, these ads are probably illegal, though proving it could be a bitch. See, the BA is claiming the VNR’s are meant to be educational.
Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said there was nothing nefarious about the television materials, which he said had been distributed to stations nationwide. Under federal law, he said, the government is required to inform beneficiaries about changes in Medicare.“The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” Mr. Keane said. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” (emphasis added)
Uh-huh. So these ads, which consist mostly of Bush being cheered by crowds while actors playing phramacists, doctors, and reporters talk about how wonderful the new law is, are “educational”? The VNR’s don’t tell people how to sign up, don’t really give them any information about how it works or what to expect from it or what it will cover. They tell people what a terrific guy Bush is, and these are “educational”? BS. This is like when Bush I’s tame FCC declared that The Jetsons qualified as “educational children’s programming” so the poor networks wouldn’t have to do any real programs for kids.
Mr Keane, by-the-bye, is a “dark-side hack”, reporter-jargon for a news reporter who switches over to “the dark side”–public relations. He was, for a short–very short–time, a reporter for a small Wisconsin weekly before he got scooped up by HHS Sec Tommy Thompson when he was WI’s Gov and put in charge of Tommy’s “Dept of Public Communications” (read: TT’s PR shop). Good Soldier Thompson no doubt gave Kevin his marching orders, and at this point we know what they were without being told because they’re always the same, no matter what govt agency we’re talking about: “Make sure all PR materials Praise Our Glorious Leader.” Whether that’s appropriate or not.
The source of the materials was uncovered by GAO lawyers. In the past, the GAO has clamped down on VNR’s that seemed more campaign-related than education-related.
Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. In the past, the General Accounting Office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government or its contractors without identifying the source.
But this time, they don’t think there’s anything wrong even though the same provision has been violated in exactly the same way.
In a report to Congress last week, the lawyers said those fliers and advertisements were legal, despite “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials said the television news segments were also a legal, effective way to educate beneficiaries.
You know, there used to be two govt agencies that were generally considered to be completrely, even defiantly, non-partisan–the CBO and the GAO. The Bushies appear to have successfully subverted both to their radical agenda. There is now NO govt department or agency free of rabid right-wing partisanship. They have politicized Science, the Census, Math, and now this.
Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, expressed disbelief that any television stations would present the Medicare videos as real news segments, considering the current debate about the merits of the new law.”Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” Mr. Kovach said. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.”
Not according to the GAO Legal Dept, Bill. It’s fine, just fine. Everybody back to your homes, there’s nothing going on here.