WASHINGTON: A bill prohibiting the use of government funds for video news releases that are not clearly labeled as government productions was scheduled to be signed by President Bush after passing unanimously in the Senate this week.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced the amendment to the $82 billion war-spending bill. It states that government VNRs must include "clear notification within the text or audio."
VNR producers downplayed the significance of the bill and its effect on business.
Larry Thomas, president of MultiVu, said he does not object to the bill because it reemphasizes industry practices already in place.
"Ultimately we agree there should be full transparency, whether it's coming from the government or any other entity," he said. "I don't see this changing our business at all because it's already common practice."
Michael Friedman, EVP and partner of DWJ Television, dispelled the notion that labeling government VNRs would make a difference to viewers, because he said they recognize when video material is coming from the government.
"I think this whole argument begs that news directors are not smart and viewers are not smart," he said. "Everybody is an expert on television."
He admitted that the regulation would at least have a temporary effect on the use of VNRs by news stations, however.
"I don't think it's going to mean the end of VNRs and satellite media tours," he said. "But I think there will be a dip in usage. I've seen it before."
Casey Kyler-West, news director of KTVH, an NBC affiliate in Helena, MT, said her station would be unaffected by the new requirements. The VNRs her station most frequently uses? most coming from the local fish, wildlife, and parks state agency ? are already labeled by the station, she said.
"We're already doing it," she said. "We're making sure it gets done now more so than before."
Matthew Felling, media director for The Center for Media and Public Affairs, said the mandatory labeling is a step in the right direction, but not enough.
"The identification of VNRs needs to be standardized," he said. "You can't have the local NBC affiliate feature a story with one sort of label and the CBS affiliate up the dial have a different-looking caption."
Proposed legislation by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) seeks to make the disclosure requirements permanent. It also calls for frame-by-frame identification of the government source.