FCC Fines Local TV Stations for Airing Fake News

Penalties result from complaint filed in 2006 by Free Press and Center for Media Democracy
Contact Info: 

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission fined a pair of television stations for airing commercials masquerading as news segments. These video news releases (VNRs) are advertisements produced to be virtually indistinguishable from news stories and distributed to television news departments, and they violate the FCC’s longstanding “sponsorship identification” rules when they are aired without disclosing their origins.

The fines, first reported in Communications Daily, came in response to a 2006 complaint filed by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, which exposed the rampant use of PR firm-generated VNRs disguised as news programming. The groups filed a follow-up report and complaints in 2007, further detailing the trend. Overall the groups cited the use of over 100 undisclosed VNRs.

KMSP-TV, a Fox-owned affiliate in Minneapolis, aired what appeared to be a news report on increased consumer demand for convertible cars in the summer. The video, which was sponsored by General Motors, presented multiple shots and favorable descriptions of GM products.

To view the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability for KMSP click here: http://www.freepress.net/resource/kmsp-notice-apparent-liability

WMGM-TV, a NBC affiliate in southern New Jersey, aired a segment on how to treat the common cold. The station claimed the piece was sponsored by a local hospital, but it was produced and paid for by Matrix Initiative, the maker of Zicam zinc cold remedy. The segment featured the use of zinc products as a way to treat colds and exclusively focused on Zicam’s product.

To view the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability for WMGM click here: http://www.freepress.net/resource/wmgm-notice-apparent-liability.

Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron made the following statement:

“Viewers deserve to know when they are watching paid propaganda instead of real news. If we can’t trust the news to tell us what’s happening in our communities without trying to sell us something, it’s easy to become cynical and dismiss what they say even when we’re getting the truth. If the news business wants to know why they’re losing readers and viewers, they should look at decisions like this.

“The FCC has taken two more steps toward cracking down on fake news by levying these fines, and we commend the Commission for its action.

“We urge the FCC to continue to identify violators and enforce its sponsorship identification rules.”

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First Complaint of Free Press and Center for Media and Democracy (April 6, 2006), available at http://www.freepress.net/files/fcc_complaint_4-06-06.pdf

Second Complaint of Free Press and Center for Media and Democracy (Nov. 14, 2006), available at http://www.freepress.net/files/final_vnr_letter_nov06.pdf

Third Complaint of Free Press and Center for Media and Democracy (Oct. 11, 2007), available at http://www.freepress.net/files/oct2007_fcccomplaint.pdf

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