Attention VNR Shoppers

Yesterday's item saying that TV stations "technically" do not have to identify the source of video news releases unless they deal with controversial or political topics omitted a key word, "necessarily."

The source of controversial and political VNRs must be identified, but whether or not other types must also depends on individual facts and circumstances under rules subject to interpretation.

It remains an unsettled question of just what type of VNRs under what circumstances must carry an on-screen disclaimer, though if anyone in the chain of custody of the VNR, including the producer or broadcaster, has been paid or otherwise compensated to air it, a disclosure appears to be required.

Beyond that, the FCC in April 2005 advised stations that, as a general rule, VNRs should be identified, saying "whenever broadcast stations and cable operators air VNRs, licensees and operators generally must clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material that they are viewing."

Leading to some confusion was the passage from the FCC rules also cited in that advisory that"In situations in which a broadcast licensee has not directly received or been promised consideration, has not received any Section 507 report that material has been paid for from its employees or others that must make such reports pursuant to that section of the Act, and, acting with the requisite diligence, has no information concerning the making of such promise or payment, Section 317(a)(1) of the Act provides generally that no sponsorship identification is necessary with regard to material that is furnished to the licensee “without charge or at a nominal charge.”

Among the key issue then become how diligently broadcasters have tried to determine whether someone has been paid to get something on air, and what qualifies as the "payment...received or promised to a broadcast licensee or cable operator for the airing of program material" that triggers the ID requirement. For example, does a VNR producer who has been paid by a corporation to make the video automatically trigger the identification requirement, or would it have to be part of the contract that the VNR get airplay.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.