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Center for Media and Democracy, Free Press File Another VNR Complaint

Broadcasters have committed to promoting the transition to digital and high-definition TV on-air, including in their newscast, but this may not be what they had in mind.

The Center for Media and Democracy and Free Press filed their third complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over TV stations and cable systems airing unattributed video-news releases.

The first two involved more than 100 stations, and the latest only one, WGTU in Traverse City, Mich., for airing three unattributed videos in its newscasts, including one from Harris about using HDTV in National Football League replays. The general manager of the station was not available to comment at press time.

FCC rules don't require stations to identify VNRs they haven't paid for with on-screen IDs unless the VNRs are political, deal with important issues, or dwell inordinately on a brand. The three VNRs cited -- for Harris, Capital One and John Deere -- would have to fall under the last of those.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association has said that it advises all stations to identify VNRs, but it takes issue with the raft of complaints that have been filed by the groups.

The complaint was intended to remind the FCC that the practice of airing VNRs that mimic newscasts is still going on and to encourage it to take action on more than 100 pending complaints stretching back more than one year.

Craig Aaron, communications director for Free Press, said the complaint against WGTU was not the result of an extensive follow-up investigation, but was an example that the practice was alive and well.

Aaron said he was pleased that the commission had acted on five complaints against cable company Comcast, which the FCC said dwelt inordinately on a brand, but pointed to the 100-plus still in the pipeline. "We could certainly have dug up a lot more," he added. "That's why it's important for the FCC to follow through on all of the stations."