NABC offers best chance to clear up VNR confusion

Now that the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC) has a name, and is going public, hopefully it can properly mobilize on the threats to the industry.

Now that the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC) has a name, and is going public, hopefully it can properly mobilize on the threats to the industry.

Until now, we've been told little more than it is "business as usual," that VNR usage hasn't declined and that stations aren't confused.

But that just isn't the case, for the companies or newsrooms. Broadcast companies have been damaged by the ongoing controversy, which has its roots in the now-infamous "Karen Ryan reporting" Health and Human Services VNR of 2004. The fact that that incident lead to an even more transparent system has been largely ignored.

This year, a Center for Media and Democracy report noted that 77 stations had broadcast segments from VNRs as original reporting, or integrated into their own content without disclosing that they came from companies. Previous reports on the Bush administration's VNR use had already given the issue more momentum with a partisan twist.

During this time, the broadcast PR industry has been finding ways to compensate for the drop-off in classic VNR work by focusing increasingly on radio, on-demand digital news rooms, and other platforms.

But lest anyone think the interest in this issue is purely commercial, on behalf of a segment of the PR world, the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) letter to the FCC, over the "Letters of Inquiry" issued to 77 news stations over VNR use, puts this into a larger perspective. The missive underscores the RTNDA's adoption of voluntary standards and promises a chilling effect on the newsroom role if government regulations are imposed on them. Newsrooms already are confused over the use - even the legality - of VNRs.

Their point, and ours, is that news producers, reporters, and editors should decide what's news. Broadcast companies and their clients should continue to impose exacting standards for disclosure. But government needs to stay out of the newsroom.

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