WASHINGTON: CBS affiliate WUSA-TV was charging the DC government as much as $100,000 annually to promote breast cancer awareness during newscasts, according to government contracts obtained by The Washington Times.
From February 2002 to February 2004, news anchors at the Gannett-owned TV station were required under the contracts to encourage viewers to learn more about breast cancer by visiting the station's website, which included a banner ad for the DC Department of Human Services. The TV station, however, did not inform viewers that the city government was paying for the mentions.
The station runs a program called "Buddy Check 9," which encourages viewers to contact a female friend or family member on the ninth of every month about conducting self-exams to check for breast cancer.
Daryll Green, president and GM of WUSA, said there was never any cost tied to a specific mention about breast cancer awareness during any newscast.
"We did not sell news time," he said.
The contracts obtained by the Times indicate that the government paid for on-air messages, including "on-air mentions by news anchors within newscasts of the Buddy Check 9 program informing viewers of the WUSA website for the Department of Human Services' banner."
The DC government did not return a call for comment by press time.
Gary Hill, chair of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists and news manager, special projects, at ABC affiliate KSTP-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul, took issue with the arrangement.
"We're always trying to draw a line between what's news coverage and what's paid advertising, and draw a fairly distinct line that the viewers can perceive so they can judge for themselves whether or not the newsroom is acting independently," Hill explained.