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SPJ condemns careless use of video news releases

For Immediate Release

David Carlson, President, (352) 846-0171,
Fred Brown, Ethics Chairman, (303)829-4647,
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211,

Indianapolis –Television’s use of unattributed video news releases is irresponsible, misleading and could lead to increased control of the content of news reports by federal regulators. The Society of Professional Journalists urges broadcast companies to set their own house in order by using extreme caution and full disclosure when airing VNRs.

“As we begin national Ethics in Journalism Week, it’s regrettable that far too many television stations continue to forget that their primary obligations are to the public and to truth,” said David Carlson, SPJ’s national president. “They aren’t doing what they are ethically and professionally obligated to do – check out their sources, confirm the veracity of the report, and disclose where the information came from.”

Press releases in video format, which are produced by in-house or hired public relations professionals to advance a company’s products or an agency’s agenda, have been around for years. However, they came to public attention more than two years ago when the Bush administration produced news reports to promote changes in the Medicare program. In many cases, these reports were aired without attributing the source, giving the appearance of a legitimate news story.

Now, VNRs are making real news again because of a report released this month by the Center for Media and Democracy. The center, after a 10-month survey, documented widespread use of footage from corporate news releases without any indication that they are lifted wholesale from the sources and aren’t the product of the stations’ own reporting.

The Center for Media and Democracy tracked 36 VNRs and identified 77 stations, collectively reaching more than half of the U.S. population, that used them at least once during the 10-month survey period. Many stations used the footage multiple times.

“There was not one disclosure [of the source of the corporate footage] in 98 instances,” said Diane Farsetta, co-author of the report. Stations didn’t balance or supplement the messages with independent fact-finding; sometimes they made it look like their own reporting, and more than a third ran VNRs intact.

Because of such laziness, viewers have no way of knowing “when the news segment they’re watching was bought and paid for by the very subjects of that ‘report’,” wrote Farsetta and her co-author, Daniel Price.

Fred Brown, co-chairman of SPJ’s Ethics committee, said the Wisconsin-based center “deserves credit and thanks for once again bringing this deplorable practice to public attention.”

SPJ would stop short of endorsing CMD’s proposed solution: an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, clarification of corporate identification rules and penalties for “all stations that air fake news.”

“It’s never a good idea when government tells journalists what they can and cannot do in the content of their news reports,” said Brown, a Sunday columnist for The Denver Post and former national president of SPJ. “We would oppose any expansion of the FCC rule. Instead, we would call on television to clean up its own act.”

During the April 24-28 observance of Ethics in Journalism Week, SPJ urges all journalists to abide by the same high ethical standards to which they hold others. Additionally, the Society encourages all journalists to visit to review a copy of the SPJ Code of Ethics, available in seven languages.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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