FCC Fines Fox $4,000 Over 2006 Video News Release

Dismissing First
Amendment and other arguments, the FCC Friday proposed fining Fox's KMSP-TV
Minneapolis $4,000 for failing to identify a video news release it used in a
June 2006 news story.

The FCC said that the
station should have identified the GM VNR, in a story about new cars, and that
failure to do so violated its sponsorship violation rules.

While Fox did not
dispute that it had aired the VNR, it objected to the whole inquiry as an
encroachment on its editorial discretion, which in this case was that
no ID was required since Fox said that the station did not get
or receive any consideration in exchange for the VNR and that using
it was no different than using a press release, which the FCC has recognized
does not necessarily require disclosure.

FCC rules require
disclosure when anything is broadcast in exchange for "valuable consideration,"
but has interpreted that in the recent past as meaning that the VNR itself
can be that valuable consideration being provided to the station (it takes the
place of a story or segment that would have to be staffed and produced).

The commission also
advised licensees back in 2005 - during controversy over the Bush
administration use of VNR's to push its agenda - that the FCC rules
"generally require them to clearly disclose the nature, source and
sponsorship of program matter that they air, including VNRs."

The FCC's fining came
down to the interpretation of the FCC's ID rules, which do allow for the use
of VNRs without sponsorship ID's if "the company's products or
services are clearly identifiable and shown fleetingly in a manner reasonably related"
to the subject matter of the film." Sponsorship is required if "the
company's products or services are 'shown to an extent disproportionate to the
subject matter of the film.' Fox argued the former, while the FCC concluded the
latter, dismissing the First Amendment argument about interfering with
Fox's editorial judgment.  

"Although the
Commission must avoid intrusion on a broadcaster's editorial judgments, it
cannot abrogate its responsibility to administer statutes within its
jurisdiction....The FCC said. "In sum, Fox has failed to demonstrate how
the burden of responding to inquiries concerning whether Station KMSP-TV's
aired sponsorship announcements can be credibly deemed to chill the Station's

The complaint was filed
by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy.

"We are reviewing the decision and will respond at the appropriate time to the FCC," said a Fox spokeswoman.

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.