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Pinocchio_nose.jpgBy B.L. Ochman The same way Congress creates pork-barrel legislation, the Public Relations Society of America displays vintage spin in a press release that purports to want to preserve media freedom, but also happens to want to preserve the right of PR firms to spin the news in packaged feature content. “PRSA URGES FCC TO AVOID ACTIONS THAT THREATEN OPEN, HONEST COMMUNICATIONS IN THE U.S.” is the headline in the release that goes on to lobby against a ruling that would require the source of corporate-sponsored canned news footage to be identified on-screen.
Stations are far from blameless, since they almost never identify the source of video press releases, which make up a large percentage of what passes for news. But one way or another, whether the PR firms or the stations identify the source, the public has a right to know when it is watching spun news. Since neither the agencies nor the stations have taken responsibility, the FCC plans a ruling on the issue. I believe the public has a right to know, but I wish the PR industry and the media would police themselves.
Stations routinely run canned video news releases from corporations and agencies without noting the source. The Federal Communications Commission wants all news sources and sponsorship to be identified clearly, with an on-screen tag-line. PRSA agruges that the FCC may be too strict in its ruling and ” frustrate the free flow of information among corporations, government entities, other institutions and the public that we all serve. ”
In other words, they want to keep sending out canned news and spinning the presentation as they always have, without identifying the source. And they want TV stations to keep pretending that VNRs are news.
I’ve created video press releases for several clients, including one about the World’s Largest Tomato Contest that I produced for Miracle-Gro. Thousands of stations ran the Miracle-Gro footage and not one identified the source. We certainly didn’t hide the source, but the stations did. Even though the VNR was innocuous, viewers should have been told who produced the footage.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, PRSA opposes ending the ban on same-market ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations because rescinding it will allow”the creation of single media communities that could result in a single media nation, which would have a disastrous impact on society.”Our interest, they continue dramatically, “is ensuring the free flow of information and in preserving the integrity of independent and diverse media throughout our democracy.”
So far so good. Then they slip in the money shot.
On the issue of forcing broadcasters to disclose the origin of all pre-packaged news, PRSA is worried that the FCC will make the regs too tight and that they will:

“inhibit creativity in competitive packaging of news and feature content by broadcasters and its preparers, as well as frustrate the free flow of information among corporations, government entities, other institutions and the public that we all serve.”

“Our motive is to ensure the continued strength of open and honest communications, and the viability of free enterprise media as one of the strongest pillars of our nation.” Oh please: be serious! PRSA’s motive is to keep being able to spin the news in favor of its clients.