WASHINGTON – Responding to criticism over government videos being packaged as TV news reports, federal regulators reminded broadcasters Wednesday of rules requiring them to identify the source of such material.
Those rules "are grounded in the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them" with TV programming, the Federal Communications Commission (search) said in a public notice to broadcast licensees and cable operators.
Tens of thousands of people have asked the FCC to investigate the failure of broadcasters to disclose the source of the government videos, said Commissioner Michael Copps, adding that his agency should investigate each case.
The FCC is soliciting comments on the decades-old sponsorship identification rules and may seek to clarify them further.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (search) was criticized last year for a series of videos in which a narrator, sometimes identified as "Karen Ryan," said she was "reporting" on the office's activities. Separately, the Health and Human Services Department's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (search) produced video news releases (search), also narrated by "Karen Ryan," touting changes to Medicare.
The tapes were offered to local television stations for news programs. Some stations aired the videos without identifying their government origins.
Directly addressing such videos, the FCC said broadcast licensees and cable operators "generally must clearly disclose" to viewers the "nature, source and sponsorship of the material."
Violating the rules could result in a $10,000 fine, one year imprisonment or both.
"There's been a growing trend of broadcasters just putting on these so-called video news releases wholesale, and putting them on the air without letting the public know it may be from a government agency or it may be from a big corporation," said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "So the public thinks it looks like a news story, and they don't realize that in fact somebody that may have an agenda is trying to influence their thought."
In addressing the issue from the perspective of broadcasters, the FCC largely sidesteps recent disagreements between congressional investigators and the Justice Department over the legality of video news releases.
The Government Accountability Office (search) in February warned federal agencies that such productions might violate a government prohibition against the use of taxpayer money for propaganda. But the Justice Department in March concluded the practice was appropriate as long as the videos presented factual information about government programs.