Fake TV News

Time To Pay for Payola Pundit Armstrong Williams

Perhaps, in the case of Armstrong Williams, the third time will be the charm.

Armstrong WilliamsThe first two official investigations failed to hold anyone accountable for what can only be described as a textbook case of government propaganda. The results of the third investigation, by the Federal Communications Commission, were announced recently (PDF file). The FCC found Williams and two media companies to be at fault, issuing a citation against Williams and proposing fines of $40,000 against Sonshine Family Television and $36,000 against Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Fake Interviews for Everything?

"There's sensitivity to sponsored news right now," admits KEF Media Associates' Yvonne Goforth, adding that her firm is doing more to target satellite media tours (SMTs) -- sponsored and often scripted television "interviews" -- to local TV stations.


An Ethical Look at Fake News

Jerry Dunklee (photo courtesy of John O'Dwyer)"I love Red Cross, but I don't trust them completely when they're the ones shooting the video," explained journalism professor and Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) ethics committee member Jerry Dunklee.

Dunklee was speaking at SPJ's recent convention, on a panel titled "Paid and Played: The Ethics of Using Video News Releases." His remarks focused on the ethical issues raised by VNRs. Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) executive director John Stauber and Jim Bayse of the firm Wiley Rein, which represents the Radio-Television News Directors Association, were also on the panel.

Much of the VNR debate is currently focused on legal and policy issues: speculation over what the Federal Communications Commission really meant by fining Comcast for five undisclosed VNRs, and what the agency is likely to do next. But it's also important to address the ethical implications of VNRs. Dunklee did so by relating sometimes abstract guidelines to real-world situations he faced as a reporter and news director in cable and broadcast television.

TV "Expert" Doesn't Disclose His Fellow Travelers

Florida's Broward County paid a travel writer $10,000 to mention Fort Lauderdale, "during a summer media tour that took him to 16 news stations in 37 days," reports the Miami Herald. Joel Widzer "seemed to have little trouble finding stations willing to interview him and air the footage of Fort Lauderdale's coral reefs and spas that the public relations firm, Plus Media, provided producers. A follow-up report ...


A First for the FCC: Fining Fake News!

The VNR that cost Comcast $4,000The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on September 21 that it was fining Comcast Corp. $4,000 for its cable channel CN8's broadcast of fake TV news, a video news release (VNR) without disclosure.

The Comcast fine is the first-ever sanction for airing a VNR, a sponsored PR video that mimics the structure and style of television news reports. The fine is a direct result of Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) investigations, and of a joint complaint filed with the FCC by CMD and Free Press.

The FCC's action against Comcast is precedent setting. It firmly rejects the public relations industry's argument that no disclosure is needed if television stations are not paid to air VNRs. Hopefully, the FCC will soon address the nearly 140 other undisclosed VNR broadcasts that were documented in CMD's two reports, "Fake TV News" and "Still Not the News."


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