Broadcast PR companies unite amid ongoing scrutiny of VNRs

NEW YORK: In response to the wave of scrutiny VNRs have faced in recent years, a group of broadcast PR companies has formed the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC), a professional association designed to establish standards and guidelines for its member companies.

NEW YORK: In response to the wave of scrutiny VNRs have faced in recent years, a group of broadcast PR companies has formed the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC), a professional association designed to establish standards and guidelines for its member companies.

It will also represent the broadcast PR profession before the broadcast industry, regulatory community, and PR industry.

The association, which was formed this summer, includes as its founding members Auritt Communications, DS Simon Productions, DWJ Television, Gordon Productions, Gourvitz Communications, Home Front Communications, KEF Media Associates, Medialink, MultiVu, News Broadcast Network (NBN), On the Scene Productions, PLUS Media, VNR-1, and WestGlen Communications.

Kevin Foley, president of KEF, will serve as NABC president. Other executive committee members include VPs Mike Hill, president of NBN, and Larry Thomas, COO of Medialink. The association's Web site is broadcastcommunicators.org.

Hill told PRWeek that while there has been talk of an association for as many as 10 years, it is the FCC's recent involvement in the VNR issue that has "galvanized" the movement.

"We wouldn't have all gotten together [so] quickly had there not been some concern over what we felt was a misunderstanding of the FCC's own rules and regulations," he said.

In April 2005, following a front-page New York Times article on the Bush administration's use of VNRs, which detailed several TV stations' failure to properly identify VNRs as such, the FCC issued a reminder about existing guidelines to news stations.

The NABC's first public action is a joint statement with the PRSA supporting those current FCC guidelines, which require sponsorship information of third-party video to be disclosed only in cases where the material is of a political or controversial nature or if the station has gotten paid to air it, which isn't the case with VNRs.

"Disclosure is something that TV and radio stations should do as they feel necessary from a news standpoint," Hill said.

The most recent media attention regarding VNRs stemmed from an April 2006 report by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a watchdog group, which showed that 77 TV stations had failed to identify VNRs as outside footage. In response to that report, the FCC sent a letter of inquiry to those 77 stations asking for more information about their use of VNRs.

On October 5, the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) asked the FCC to halt its inquiry, citing the CMD's study as "biased and inaccurate."

"The [FCC's Enforcement Bureau] is following the lead of an organization that is unrelenting in its hostility to the principles of free speech and a free press that have sustained our democratic institutions for more than 200 years," read the RTNDA's letter to the FCC.

The CMD subsequently issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the RTNDA's claim that the study was inaccurate. Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for CMD, also disputed critics' claims that the group is anti-PR.

"[The CMD] is a watchdog of deceptive PR," she told PRWeek. "We don't say... that all PR is bad."

She added that the CMD's ultimate recommendation to the FCC is to require broadcasters to air a continuous on-screen disclaimer during a VNR, something both the RTNDA and broadcast PR industry feel would be a violation of the media's First Amendment rights.

"Requiring disclosure completely all the time would be unworkable," Hill added. "It really would represent an intrusion in the newsroom that would very difficult to work with."

Michael Cherenson, EVP of the Cherenson Group and chair of the PRSA's advocacy practice, said the PRSA decided to unite with the NABC because it is an issue that affects the communications industry as a whole.

"We're all part of the same PR community and that continuum of news and information," he said. "We all play an important role in the news gathering and dissemination process. All of us have an obligation to protect the First Amendment and protect newsrooms from the encroachment of the government."

NABC has retained the law firm of Keller and Heckman in Washington, DC, and lobbying firm Bryan Cave Strategies to advise it on the FCC situation. Hill said the association planned to submit a letter addressing NABC's position on the matter to the FCC this week.

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