WASHINGTON: Industry experts rushed to the defense of the video news release as a legitimate news vehicle last week after it was revealed that the General Accounting Office was investigating videos explaining new Medicare benefits created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and distributed to various local media outlets.
What remains unclear, however, is whether the 30-second videos, which featured actors posing as journalists but did not identify themselves as HHS productions, should be considered VNRs or advocacy tools - a distinction that experts agreed had grown increasingly blurred.
"VNRs have been around since the dawn of TV, just as press releases have been around since the dawn of newspapers," said Medialink CEO Larry Moskowitz. "If a fraudulent press release were issued, that's wrong, but it doesn't make all press releases bad. And if a fraudulent VNR were released, that's wrong, but it wouldn't indict all VNRs."
Federal law prohibits government agencies from using public money for advocacy or promotional purposes. Government communicators said they regularly issue VNRs, ANRs, and press releases, just like their private counterparts, but stressed the importance of presenting a balanced view and identifying the source.
Michael Sheward, executive director of the National Association of Government Communicators, blamed the controversy on the "Hollywood approach" many pros take to VNRs.
"I think the whole communications industry possibly needs to take a look at how we're preparing VNRs," he said. "The biggest asset for communicators and the media is trust, so the VNR should really contain the same accurate, reliable, and honest information that we would put in a print news release."