Friday, April 07, 2006

America's Fake News Pandemic

Propaganda at Work
A report released yesterday by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press exposes corporate propaganda's infiltration of local television news across the country.

The Center, which authored the report, monitored local news broadcasts for 10 months and caught 77 local stations that had slipped corporate-sponsored “video news releases” — segments promoting commercial brands and products — into their regular news programming. These advertisements were dressed up as real news and passed off to unsuspecting viewers as legitimate. At no time during the airing, did the local correspondents reveal the corporations as the source of the material.

Collectively, the stations implicated in the report reach more than half of the U.S. population.

This illegal deception is a breach of the trust between local stations and their communities. By disguising advertisements as news, stations violate both the spirit and the letter of their broadcasting licenses, which obligate them to serve the public interest.

During a press conference yesterday FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for "vigorous enforcement" against stations that air this corporate propaganda without revealing the source to their viewers. "Failure to disclose that to the public is a violation of federal law and in fact can be subject to criminal penalties of up to a year in jail," Adelstein said during a radio interview earlier in the day.

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.

Some instances:

Sinclair Terrorizes with ‘I-Porn’

Propaganda at Work
Faux tech-expert Robin Raskin offers video games as the antidote to “scary” pornographic i-Pods. What Raskin doesn’t mention is that she’s on the payroll of the companies whose products she’s pushing.

(View the original VNR and then then click on the image at right to see how Sinclair-owned WPGH in Pittsburgh faked it.)

Clear Channel Delivers a Placebo

Propaganda at Work
Carrie Lazarus hails a dietary supplement as a “major health breakthrough” for arthritis sufferers. She fails to point out that the sponsor of the VNR manufactures the supplement, nor mention that it barely outperforms a placebo.

(View the original VNR and then see how Clear Channel-owned WSYR in Syracuse faked it).

Fox Sweetens the Pitch

Propaganda at Work
“Parenting expert” Julie Edelman advises viewers to throw a “Hide and Glow” scavenger hunt featuring brand-name M&M candies. What the station didn’t reveal is that it lifted the entire segment from a VNR co-funded by Masterfoods -- formerly the M&M/Mars Company.

(View the original VNR and then see how Fox's KTVI-3 in St. Louis faked it).

You can find instances of fake news in your community, by visiting the Free Press map of all the VNR stations exposed by the CMD report.

Approximately 80 percent of the stations snared in the investigation are owned by large conglomerates. The list of the worst offenders reads like a who's who of big media: Clear Channel, News Corp./Fox Television, Viacom/CBS Corp, Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group — whose Oklahoma City affiliate was caught airing VNRs on six separate occasions.

The evidence draws a clear line between media consolidation and the broadcast of deceptive, pre-packaged propaganda. When all station owners care about is the bottom line, fake news can prove irresistible.

There’s a reason for this: VNRs are free. Reporting news that’s meaningful to local communities isn’t. By opting to air a VNR instead of sending a reporter into the field, station owners save a fortune. Corporate PR firms offer local stations VNRs knowing there’s a built-in incentive to use them. By dressing up fake news as local reporting, stations cut costs and increase profits.

On April 6, Free Press and CMD delivered a formal complaint to the FCC, urging the agency to take immediate and strong action to stop this widespread abuse. The complaint calls on Chairman Kevin Martin to determine whether station consolidation has contributed directly to the potentially illegal proliferation of fake news. This FCC inquiry must happen before the Commission reconsiders its rulings on broadcast ownership, according to the complaint.

Free Press has asked the public to get involved. Today, thousands of our members and other outraged Americans are writing the FCC to demand an end to fake news.


spyder said...

Thank you for all your efforts to stop this pattern of behavior. We are inundated by too much propaganda as it is, and to now have our nation's children being manipulated into accepting fake realities on a daily, indeed hourly basis, is beyond the pale. The fake news map is a cool tool too.

mehoffer said...

This, like the cable/telco desire to move away from network neutrality, is another abrogation of the implicit and explicit conditions these companies have agreed to in order to attain their primary assets--in this case, the public airwaves granted to them by the FCC in the name of the citizens they are supposed to be serving.

It's rather amazing to see yet another arena as an additional example of counterfeiting. Those entrusted, yet again, to serve the public good, have shown that neither they nor their hypothecated "regulators" are delivering anything approaching the minimum standard of consideration required in exchange for the priviledge of opportunity handed to them.
Seemingly, every day we trod deeper into The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's, that is.


RADdams said...

Nice Story. I have been waiting to post this comment to see if your radar picked up on the story out of Michigan about three employees of Michigan Public Radio who accepted payola for favorable spots. What is most interesting with this story is that it involves public radio, not commercial radio. Please contact your people who control the dots on the map and add a big red one to Ann Arbor, MI for the shame that three employees bring to public radio. Apparently one has plead guilty and is cooperating with authorities against the other two.

See for more.

Anonymous said...

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Progressives could do a lot of good by creating and distributing VNR's to TV stations.

- Mediahitman

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