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RTNDA Asks FCC to Rescind Comcast VNR Fines

Radio and TV journalists asked the Federal Communications Commission to rescind the fines against Comcast for its use of unattributed video-news releases.

In a filing at the FCC Wednesday, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and a coalition of some 70 state broadcast associations and broadcast group owners, said the decision "injects the government agency into protected newsgathering and editorial activities to an unprecedented and inappropriate degree."

The FCC fined Comcast $20,000 for VNRs that aired on its CN8, The Comcast Network news channel in various stories -- the first such fines the FCC has ever issued.

More than 100 TV stations also drew complaints for unattributed VNRs, and they could face similar fines once the FCC decides their cases.

"The legislative history shows that Congress did not intend for the FCC to dictate how stations should make identifications when they independently decide to use third-party resource materials such as written press releases or their modern-day electronic equivalents," the RTNDA and company said. "Such news releases provide journalists with story ideas, quotations, images and background information for possible reference or inclusion in news stories."

"This brings the government into the newsroom, making all kinds of decisions and judgments that are precisely what the First Amendment seeks to avoid, Barbara Cochran, president of RTNDA, told B&C.

Although the RTNDA said the FCC overreached, it also counsels stations to always identify outside material.

The lobby for PR firms that produce VNRs applauded RTNDA.

"In its response to the Comcast NAL’s yesterday, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and 70 major broadcasters made a very compelling First Amendment case against further threats of government intrusion into the work of electronic journalists or the editorial process of television newsrooms."  the National Association of Broadcast Communicators said in a statement. "The RTNDA also acknowledged in its response the 'valuable role' VNRs have traditionally played in electronic newsgathering operations. 

"Fortunately, we live in a country without an “information ministry” to monitor and regulate the activities of electronic and print journalists or otherwise control the free flow of information through all media, and the NABC agrees with the RTNDA and the coalition of 70 broadcasters that it should stay that way.”

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.