Senate Passes VNR Bill, Requires Disclosure

In what may be a harbinger of things to come for other non-transparent forms of media such as brand entertainment and product integration deals, the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday passed a bill that would require government-backed and packaged video news releases (VNR) to be clearly identified as such.

Video press releases often look just like legitimate news stories that run on TV newscasts, but are actually produced by an outside production company working on behalf of a corporate or brand marketer, not news organizations.

The move comes after the General Accounting Office found that some government-sponsored VNRs--particularly those for health care and education initiatives--were not actual news, and should not have been funded by Congress.

The controversy was first sparked when it was learned that radio broadcaster Armstrong Williams received a $240,000 payment from the Bush Administration's Education Department for shilling the government's initiatives in his broadcasts.

VNR producers who work for government agencies said they were pleased that the bill didn't require identification throughout the entire time a VNR is aired, but only for a few seconds during the produced news package.

Critics, including some Congressmen, have demanded that all VNRs--as well as branded entertainment and product placement deals--be heavily labeled as such, so that viewers will not be confused.



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