Group slams 'fake' US news29th November 2006
American viewers are being fed 'health news' reported, produced and packaged by corporate PR firms but aired by some broadcasters as if it were impartially compiled, with little or no information given about sponsorship, a US media watchdog says.
According to a follow-up report into the phenomenon of "fake news" by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), many stations air 'science' and 'health' news produced by public relations companies without making the shift clear between those items and regular news generated by network journalists.
Sometimes they showcase new treatments or equipment, as in the case of one report which used a journalistic format to promote medical diagnostic equipment made by Siemens, CMD said in a statement carried on its website.
Another example it gave was a report produced and packaged by the PR firm D.S.Simon on behalf of the American College of Physicians, which publishes the Annals of Internal Medicine. The report, about a new test to diagnose kidney disease in its early stages, was aired on Sioux-Falls-based TV station KSFY-13.
The station aired the video news release, which gave glowing coverage to a particular kidney test, in full, while New York City cable station NY1 used the same footage but took the trouble to get another interview with an expert who thought other tests might be even better, CMD said.
While the apparently neutral College didn't stand to profit from the sale of one kidney test over another, it was likely to benefit from increased exposure that the segment generated for its publication, the group said.
CMD's study, "Fake TV News", released in April, documented television newsrooms' use of 36 video news releases (VNRs) - a small sample of the thousands produced each year.
CMD identified 77 television stations, from those in the largest to the smallest markets, that aired these VNRs or similar productions in 98 separate instances, without disclosure to viewers.
Collectively, these 77 stations reach more than half of the US population, it said.
The VNRs and SMTs whose broadcast CMD documented were produced by three broadcast PR firms for 49 different clients, including General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One.
"In each case, these 77 television stations actively disguised the sponsored content to make it appear to be their own reporting. In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research. More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety," CMD said.
Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, which organised an activism campaign that has generated tens of thousands of letters to the FCC protesting fake news, said corporate PR firms offered local stations these segments knowing there was a built-in incentive to use them.
"By dressing up fake news as local reporting, stations cut costs. But viewers have no way to know they're being duped," Karr said.
CMD and Free Press are contributing to a new website set up to observe the way the media uses promotional material, at http://www.stopfakenews.org.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched an investigation into the use of public relations material by newsrooms, amid howls of protest from professional organisations.
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Title: Group slams 'fake' US news
Author: Martine Hamilton
Article Id: 1356
Date Added: 29th Nov 2006