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WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday night, the Federal Communications Commission called on all television newscasters to clearly disclose the origin of video news releases (VNRs) used on their programs. "Listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them with the programming offered over broadcast stations and cable systems," the FCC stated in a public notice unanimously approved by all four FCC commissioners.

The FCC issued the public notice in response to a "large number of requests" to investigate the use of VNRs, specifically citing the more than 40,000 concerned citizens who signed a petition circulated by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy. On March 21, the two groups filed a complaint (available at http://www.freepress.net/docs/final_vnr_letter_5.pdf) with the FCC, urging Chairman Kevin J. Martin to investigate news fraud and enforce existing laws against payola and the use of federal funds to create "covert propaganda."

"The broadcast industry's use of video news releases and other government- and corporate-funded fake news continues to enrage Americans," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "We welcome the FCC's statement and will continue to monitor local newscasts. Unless broadcasters take immediate action to cease or disclose their use of this material, we will pressure the government to take stronger action."

"Not labeling VNRs constitutes news fraud and violates the most basic ethical standards of journalism," said John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. "It's now time for TV news producers to own up their responsibility to the viewing public and fully disclose their use of fake news."

The FCC instructed all newscasters abide FCC sponsorship identification rules when they air "video news releases' (VNRs) and called for comments from license holders and cable operators about their use of VNRs.

"Recently tens of thousands of citizens contacted the FCC demanding an investigation into the failure of broadcasters to disclose their use of government-generated 'news' stories. They were right to do so," said FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps in a statement. "This Commission should investigate each such case. And it should strenuously enforce the rules against inadequate sponsorship identification."

In a separate statement, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said: "Today's Public Notice is in response to these developments, and reminds broadcast stations, cable operators, and others of their disclosure obligations under our rules, if and when they choose to air VNRs, and to reinforce that we will take appropriate enforcement action against stations that do not comply with these rules."

A March 13 article in the New York Times identified 20 federal agencies that used taxpayer funds to produce television news segments promoting Bush administration policies. These VNRs were broadcast on hundreds of local news programs without disclosing their source.

At least three investigations by Congress' Government Accountability Office (GAO) previously concluded that these segments constitute illegal "covert propaganda." Yet the White House recently instructed all executive branch agencies to ignore the GAO findings and continue to produce VNRs. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are expected to introduce legislation today that would require all government agencies to disclose their role in producing VNRs.

Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy are also working with local groups to establish "citizen agreements" with local stations, under which broadcasters pledge to clearly identify or label pre-packaged reports produced by the government or corporations.

To learn more about news fraud, payola pundits and government propaganda, read the in-depth report from Free Press at http://www.freepress.net/propaganda.

Free Press (www.freepress.net) is a national, nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in media policy and to promote a more competitive, public-interest-oriented media system.

The Center for Media and Democracy is a public interest organization publishing PR Watch (www.prwatch.org) and investigating and reporting on how public relations experts manipulate public information, perceptions and opinion on behalf of governments and special interests.

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