Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Kerry Protests Prepackaged News

Raw Story reports that the following letter, drafted by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), will go out this afternoon to Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell, demanding an inquiry into the role of government agencies in ‘prepackaged’ news provided to news networks:

March 15, 2005

The Honorable Michael Powell Chairman Federal Communications Commission Room 8-B201 445 12th Street, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Powell:

I am disturbed by recent press reports, including a New York Times article published on March 13, 2005, stating that prepackaged news reports produced by the federal government are being broadcast on local television stations across the country without an acknowledgment of the government’s role in their production.

It appears that federal agencies, in an increasingly common practice, are producing and distributing hundreds of television news segments, many of which are subsequently broadcast on local television stations throughout the country. Very often, these segments are being broadcast without properly revealing that they were written and produced by the federal government.

Broadcast industry standards already discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has sought to forbid federal agencies from creating prepackaged news reports “that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials.” Each year since 1951, Congress has enacted a government-wide prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for the purposes of “publicity or propaganda.” Yet this practice continues to flourish, and to make matters worse, the source of the information is not shared with the public.

I strongly believe that the federal government should not be permitted to manipulate public opinion by providing news organizations with so-called “news reports” that have been created by public relations experts, which are then broadcast without proper disclosure. Every American is entitled to know the source of prepackaged information that is broadcast on TV and characterized as “news.” Taxpayers have a right to know if their tax dollars have been used to produce the news they’re watching. This is especially disconcerting in light of recent disclosures that federal agencies have compensated professional journalists for presenting and supporting Bush Administration policies

I ask that you undertake an immediate, full and thorough investigation into this issue. I also ask that you determine if there has been a violation of the applicable statute or agency rules that govern a broadcaster’s obligation to disclose the source of materials that it broadcasts. In addition, please identify whether there are loopholes in your existing statutory authority that prevent you from effectively dealing with this issue and whether there are appropriate enforcement mechanisms in place to stop non-disclosure of news clips produced by the federal government.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.


John F. Kerry


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