INDIANAPOLIS—Television’s use of video news releases without attribution is irresponsible, misleading and could lead to increased control of the content of news reports by federal regulators, says the Society of Professional Journalists, which is urging broadcast companies to use “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.”
The Society statement comes just days after a report by the Center for Media and Democracy that 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 tracked 36 VNRs that aired on 77 stations, collectively reaching more than half of the U.S. population.
Most stations didn’t balance or supplement the messages with independent fact-finding; some made it look like their own reporting, and more than a third ran VNRs intact.
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,” although the Society stops short of endorsing CMD’s proposed solution: an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, clarification of corporate identification rules and penalties for 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.”