Association calls commission investigation “an unprecedented intrusion into newsroom operations.”
The Radio-Television News Directors Association is asking the FCC to halt its present enforcement investigation into the use of video news releases (VNRs) on local television stations and to rescind the letters of inquiry sent to 77 stations in August.
Calling the action an unprecedented intrusion into newsroom operations, RTNDA cited four issues:
- The letters of inquiry appear to have been prompted by a biased and inaccurate study regarding VNR use.
- The FCC has indicated that sponsorship identification rules do not apply in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material.
- Enforcement action has been initiated before the FCC has concluded a pending proceeding regarding VNR use.
- The investigation has had a chilling effect on the dissemination of newsworthy information to the public.
RTNDA made its comments in a letter sent to the FCC on Oct. 5. Visit www.rtnda.org to read RTNDA’s comments.
RTNDA has a longstanding policy on the identification of outside material that is stated in its Code of Ethics: “Professional electronic journalists must clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.” The policy has been amplified with guidelines that have been distributed to members. In the letter, RTNDA says its members “are committed to providing accurate and credible news stories. That commitment extends to appropriate identification of materials received from third-party sources.”
However, RTNDA states, while it is perfectly permissible for private sector organizations to adopt guidelines for constitutionally protected communications, the First Amendment clearly restricts governmental constraints aimed at the same or similar objectives.
The FCC sent its letters of inquiry to stations named in a report issued by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) last March that claimed 77 stations used VNR material in newscasts without identifying the origin of the material.
In a supplementary memo, RTNDA said that an examination of the evidence offered in CMD’s report finds collection of data was biased, conclusions were embellished and even erroneous and the facts inconsistent with the allegations. More than half of CMD’s allegations (56 out of 98) were unsupported by accompanying video and RTNDA was able to find more than 20 instances where stations did make appropriate disclosures, used VNR material in stories critical of the companies or products behind the VNRS, edited out the corporate overtones or where it was obvious to viewers what interests were represented by the spokespeople used.
Furthermore, RTNDA said, the number of instances cited represented a small percentage of all television stations (10.3%) and a miniscule amount of more than 1 million local stories that aired nationally during the 10-month period covered in the CMD study.
In urging the FCC to call off an inquiry based on a flawed report, RTNDA said: “Determining the content of a newscast, including when and how to identify sources, is at the very heart of the responsibilities of electronic journalists, and these decisions must remain far removed from government involvement or supervision. The government would not dream of inserting itself into a print newsroom to dictate or otherwise oversee how newspaper editors utilize press releases.”