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Inouye Seeks FCC VNR Probe

A powerful Democratic senator has asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate broadcaster use of unattributed government video-news releases.

Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), co-chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, made the request in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

The Bush administration has said it will continue to use the so-called packaged VNRs, with the President saying Wednesday it was up to stations to disclose the source if they want to.

“Until now, attention has largely focused on whether certain VNRs created by the federal government violated the restriction on using appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda,” wrote Inouye to Powell, “However, equally as serious is growing evidence that certain broadcasters are editing government-created VNRs to make it appear as if such information is the result of independent news-gathering.”

Inouye labeled it a breach of ethics at least, and wants the FCC to determine whether it is also a violation of rules requiring attibution of political broadcast matter or against payola.

The FCC is already investigating whether pay-for-play contracts like that between the administration and Armstrong Williams violated payola prohibitions.

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.