VNR Hearing Slated For April 28

Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) have scheduled an April 28 Commerce Committee hearing on a video news release VNR bill to be introduced by Senator John Kerry and several others. 

The bill requires that "VNR's produced, distributed or otherwise paid for by the federal government clearly identify the federal government as the source of such material."

The legislation, which would require a disclaimer to run continuously during the VNR, is expected to closely mirror an amendment the legislators tried to add to a "Junk Fax Prevention" bill 10 days ago then being considered by the Commerce Committee. It was withdrawn when Stevens agreed to take it up separately.The Senate on April 14 also unanimously approved an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require government agencies to clearly disclose themselves as sources of packaged VNRs, but the Kerry bill is expected to contain several additional elements.The FCC has reminded broadcasters that they must identify the source of any programming on political or controversial topics or face fines, prison, or both. The Kerry bill would parallel that effort by also putting the onus on government agencies to disclose or run afoul of "covert propaganda" prohibitions.

VNRs are essentially prepackaged news stories produced so that TV news programmers can air them without any additional editing. Sometimes actors have been employed to portray reporters. Producers of the releases often suggest scripts that news anchors can use a lead-ins.

Most stations use only B-roll video, rather than the packages, but following revelations in January 2004 that the Department of Health and Human Services prepared prepackaged programming segments on controversial White House Medicare policies, critics of the Bush Administration have demanded that the use of VNRs by federal agencies be eliminated.

A Government Accountability Office study in May of last year declared the Medicare VNR to be illegal "covert propaganda," a characterization the White House disputes, citing a Justice Department opinion contradicting GAO. --Bill McConnell contribute to this report.

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.