Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, April 10, 2006

FCC Commissioner Adelstein on Fake News

FCC Commissioner Adelstein has issued a statement concerning "fake" television news.

"Last May, I called on citizens and public interest advocates to monitor the media, and alert the FCC to undisclosed promotions that may violate our sponsorship identification laws.  Today, I am here to receive a very well documented and researched report indicating fake news is alive and well in the American media.  It shows that local news is sometimes neither local nor news.

The problem with the many video news releases these groups have uncovered is that they lead viewers to believe they are watching a real news report when instead they are getting a subtle dose of corporate propaganda.  The FCC’s issue with VNRs is not the content. The concern arises when deception replaces disclosure -- and when there is a failure to identify the source of the broadcast material. That is a betrayal of the public trust and the law.  I wonder how many of these local stations will apologize to their viewers for misleading them.

The public has a legal right to know that people who present themselves to be independent, unbiased experts and reporters are not shills hired to promote a corporate - or governmental - agenda.   The law is grounded on the principle that the public is entitled to know who seeks to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about the credibility of the information presented. 

The findings of this investigation are stunning in their scope.  It has gotten to the point that it’s often impossible for viewers to tell the difference between news and propaganda.

The findings suggest a willful ignorance of federal disclosure requirements, as well as basic journalistic ethics.  That should not be tolerated, especially by those who are trustees of the public airwaves.

It is not as if media outlets were not warned.  In April of last year, after a wave of press reports, at my insistence and the urging of Senators Inouye, Kerry, Kennedy and Lautenberg, the Commission unanimously adopted, on a bipartisan basis, a Public Notice reminding the media of its responsibilities.  It says it all: “…..whenever broadcast stations and cable operators air VNRs, licensees and operators generally must clearly disclose to members of their audience the nature, source and sponsorship of the material that they are viewing.  We will take appropriate enforcement action against entities that do not comply with these rules.”

Now is the time for us to act on this commitment.  It appears that media outlets did not heed the FCC’s clear warning.  The complaint we receive today contains voluminous evidence of possible violations of the law, all of which occurred after we issued our alert."

Read the entire statement here.  Read more about the Center for Media and Democracy and its report here.

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