Weapons of Mass Deception: Fake TV News Widespread and Undisclosed

By | November 15, 2008

nfn_tvremote“It’s shocking to see how product placement moves secretly unfiltered from the boardroom to the newsroom and then straight into our living rooms,” said Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at CMD and co-author of the report. “Local TV broadcasts — the most popular news source in the United States — frequently air VNRs without fact-checking, conducting their own reporting, or disclosing that the footage has been provided and sponsored by big corporations.”

Investigators captured 77 television stations actively disguising sponsored content from companies including General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One to make it look like their own reporting. More than one-third of the time, stations aired fake news stories in their entirety as their own reporting.

Despite repeated claims from broadcasters that they do not air VNRs as news, the new report reveals just the tip of the iceberg. Instances of fake TV news documented by CMD likely represent less than 1 percent of VNRs distributed to local newsrooms since June 2005. Fraudulent news reports have likely been aired on hundreds of more local newscasts in the past year. … Approximately 80 percent of the stations snared in the investigation are owned by large conglomerates. The list of the worst offenders includes Clear Channel, News Corp./Fox Television, Viacom/CBS, Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group – whose Oklahoma City affiliate was caught airing VNRs on six separate occasions. … –prwatch

This from wikipedia:

A video news release (VNR) is a video segment created by a PR firm, advertising agency, marketing firm, corporation, or government agency and provided to television news stations for the purpose of informing, shaping public opinion, or to promote and publicize individuals, commercial products and services, or other interests. In this way, VNRs are video versions of press releases.

… Critics of VNRs have called the practice deceptive or a propaganda technique, particularly in cases in which the segment is not explicitly identified to the viewers as a VNR. Firms producing VNRs disagree and equate their use to a press release in video form. The United States Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating the practice of VNRs.

From a 2006 article:

The Society of Professional Journalists estimates that the PR industry produces between 5,000-15,000 video news releases a year. Without disclosure, it is impossible to know how many of them end up being broadcast into U.S. homes. – cd

Integrity in broadcasting has been evaporating for a long time. In 1957 Rod Serling, who wrote the Twilight Zone series, complained that advertisers were destroying the integrity of writer’s work by ordering such things as rival buildings being painted out of the New York sky line as seen through an office window on his set. (See tvh)

The problem I have with VNRs is that friends of mine believe the hype and they end up using unhealthy products because they “saw on the news” that it was good for them. How about this: Lie on the news, or give incorrect information as fact without citing your source, and you lose your job.

Oh, and it isn’t just drug companies. In terms of VNRs we are also talking about political propaganda (lies).

saddamstatuefalls-reuters“Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.,” a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of “another success” in the Bush administration’s “drive to strengthen aviation security”; the reporter called it “one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history.” A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration’s determination to open markets for American farmers.

To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. bushturkeyMany were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgment of the government’s role in their production. – nyt

What no one is admitting how much of the Iraq / Bin Laden / al Qaeda news alerts are VNRs, propaganda to keep the money rolling in. This is from MediaCitizen, 2005:

In 2004 alone, the Bush administration spent $90 million on PR contracts, drawn from a $254 million taxpayer slush fund set up to manufacture White House-friendly propaganda.

… No wonder a USA Today poll reported that over 50 percent of Americans believed there was a direct link between the Sept. 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein, even though there was no evidence of such a connection. – ads

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