WASHINGTON: FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has asked for an investigation of experts who promote products on television without revealing that they're being paid by the manufacturer.
"I was shocked by the lack of awareness that there were laws in place to try to prevent these type of things," Adelstein told the Washington Post last week. "It's payola and it's against the law."
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Corey Greenberg, main technology product reviewer for the Today show, had been paid to promote products from such companies as Sony and Hewlett-Packard.
According to the Post, Adelstein said such arrangements violate Section 317 of the Federal Communications Act, which requires stations to announce when they are airing material for which they have received payment. Individuals who are in violation of the Act could face fines of up to $10,000 and possible jail time, he said.
Some members of the broadcast PR industry were unsure of whether the investigation would include or affect satellite media tours.
Larry Moskowitz, president, chairman, and CEO of Medialink said the investigation does not appear to apply to the PR industry at all.
"If there's no payment to the broadcaster, there's no apparent conflict," he said.
Michael Hill, president of News Broadcast Network, said the news illustrates the need for the FCC to make its position on third-party material used by broadcasters a bit clearer.
"For everybody's sake in public relations and the news business, clarifying how these rules are going to work is what should happen," he said. "We're still working in a murky situation."
Hill added that NBN is planning to submit comments to the FCC, as requested by its public notice in April. That notice sought to apply existing FCC rules to disclosure of VNRs. The deadline is June 22.