TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Senator Asks FCC to Probe Gov't Videos

Senator Asks FCC to Probe Gov't Videos

Lisa Minter (
21 Mar 2005 07:37:19 -0800

By GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A Senate Democrat influential on telecommunications
issues has asked federal regulators to investigate whether any laws
were broken by broadcasters who aired video news releases produced by
the government.

Stations may have violated the law if they used the video releases
without disclosing that the government was the source of the
information, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, wrote in a letter to the
Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC should "take any remedial measures necessary to prevent
station owners from misleading their viewers", said Inouye, adding
that any lack of disclosure also represents "a serious breach of
journalistic ethics."

Inouye, ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee, said the FCC should also scrutinize whether
stations violated prohibitions against accepting "money, service or
other valuable consideration for the airing of content."

The commission will "take the letter very seriously and will look into
it," FCC spokesman David Fiske said Thursday. Generally, the FCC
reviews letters and complaints before determining if there should be
an investigation.

The Republican White House has for some time been preparing and
distributing 'press releases' without any attribution to the source,
and many people who have read these 'press releases' have said they
amounted only to government propoganda.

The White House has defended the video releases, which are distributed
to television stations across the country. The videos are frequently
used without any disclosure of the government's role in their
production by claiming they are 'truthful accounts'.

President Bush at a news conference Wednesday pointed to a Justice
Department memo issued last week that concluded the practice was
appropriate so long as the videos presented factual information about
government activities.

"Now I also think it would be helpful if local stations then disclosed
to their viewers that this was based upon a factual report and they
chose to use it," Bush said. "But evidently in some cases that's not
the case."

The Justice guidelines conflicted with an opinion from the Government
Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The videos
could amount to illegal "covert propaganda" if stations did not
clearly state the source of the information, the GAO said.

There has been increased scrutiny on government media practices since
the revelation in January that conservative columnists were paid to
plug the administration's agenda and did not tell their audiences that
they had received money. Bush, after the practice was disclosed, said
it was wrong and ordered that it stop, then in February, a gay male
prostitute who operated gay pornographic websites was found to be
operating daily from the Press Room at the White House doing 'cut and
paste' Republican press releases for 'Talon', an alleged web site with
political news.

The FCC is investigating at least one of those cases, involving
commentator Armstrong Williams and his deal with the Education
Department to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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