White House Defends Use of VNRs

The White House on Monday defended the administration's use of video news releases (search) that are sent to television stations across the country and frequently used without any acknowledgment of the government's role in their production.

In an opinion last week, the Justice Department concluded that the practice was appropriate as long as the videos presented factual information about government programs, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. He said the opinion was forwarded to agencies and departments last week.

Questions have been raised about government media practices after the revelation that several conservative columnists were paid to promote administration policies and did not tell their audiences that they had received federal money. President Bush, after the practice was disclosed, said it was wrong and ordered that it stop.

The video news releases — from the Pentagon (search), Agriculture Department (search), Census Bureau (search) and other agencies — have the appearance of other segments in news programs and frequently are not identified by local stations as being produced by the government.

McClellan suggested the lack of disclosure was the fault of the broadcasters, not the government.

"Many federal agencies have used this for quite some time as an informational tool to provide factual information to the American people," he said. "And my understanding is that when these informational releases are sent out that it's very clear to the TV stations where they are coming from."

He said the Justice Department opinion on the video releases noted "the importance of making sure that it is factual information and not crossing the line into advocacy."