Friday, April 07, 2006

Fake News in Your Town

Propaganda at Work
Follows is my statement during a press conference with FCC Commissioner Adelstein and our allies at the Center for Media and Democracy:

Thank you Commissioner Adelstein for being such an important advocate on the side of honest media in the United States. This campaign against fake news was inspired by your unyielding efforts at the FCC.

And thank you to John, Diane, Dan and the rest of the crew at the Center for Media and Democracy. Your dogged pursuit of video news releases has resulted in a groundbreaking report that skewers the myths perpetuated by broadcast companies.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. What many Americans suspected of their local newscasts appears to be true. Stations across the country are being compromised by commercial propaganda dressed up as real news.

The Center’s “Fake TV News” report reveals only 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 during the investigation. This disgraceful practice has infected American broadcast journalism across the spectrum.

Over the last year, Free Press, the Center and our activists have been tracking counterfeit news from town to town and pressuring lawmakers on The Hill and regulators at the FCC to crack down against news fraud:
  • Last January – after news reports exposed Armstrong Williams for accepting government payments to flog Department of Education programs over the air -- thousands of Free Press members sent letters to the Commission demanding an investigation. Soon thereafter, then-Chairman Michael Powell launched a probe of Williams and broadcasters.

  • Last March -- after a New York Times report found hundreds of government-produced video news releases aired on local stations across the country -- more than 40,000 Free Press activists sent letters to the Commission asking the agency to investigate those who truck in fake news reports without disclosure. Soon thereafter, the Commission issued a "Public Notice" calling on all television newscasters to clearly disclose the origin of VNRs used on their programs.

  • Last June -- after commentators on NBC’s "Today" show were revealed to be promoting products on the program without disclosing financial ties to the manufacturer -- Free Press filed a FCC complaint asking that the Commission "got to the bottom of this practice, identified violators, and improved the effectiveness of the rules and the thoroughness of their enforcement."
Today we delivered a formal complaint to the FCC seeking a thorough investigation "to help restore the public trust in the integrity of local news." We have reached out to Americans urging them to pres the FCC "to investigate this abuse, clarify disclosure requirements and penalize all stations that air fake news."

But the problem doesn't end there. We have also asked the Commission to investigate clear ties between consolidation of local station ownership and the pandemic of television VNRs.

More than 80 percent of the stations captured in the CMD investigation are conglomerate-owned. A list of the worst possible offenders includes stations owned by Sinclair, News Corp, Clear Channel, Tribune Company and CBS Corp.

Before Chairman Martin reconsiders the Commission's rulings on broadcast ownership, he should determine whether station consolidation has contributed directly to the potentially illegal proliferation of fake news.

When station owners only care about the bottom line, fake news can prove irresistible. After all, VNRs are free. Reporting news that’s meaningful to local communities isn’t. And without decisive government action, the fake news problem will only get worse.

As our “No Fake News” campaign moves forward, Free Press is asking 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.

The public trust has been betrayed.

This great scandal can no longer be ignored.

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