Cable giant Comcast violated the law by broadcasting video news releases without identifying them as sponsored programming, the Federal Communications Commission announced today. The ruling came in response to a complaint from Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, a media watchdog group focusing on VNRs.
“In this Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”), we find that Comcast Corporation (“Comcast”), which operates an affiliated regional cable network, CN8, is apparently liable for a forfeiture in the amount of four thousand dollars ($4,000) for violating Section 76.1615 of the Commission’s rules,” the FCC ruled (word doc link).
The FCC ruling continued, “This rule generally requires cable operators engaged in origination cablecasting to make sponsorship identification announcements when presenting matter in return for money, service, or other valuable consideration. We find that Comcast cablecast portions of a video news release (“VNR”) produced on behalf of “Nelson’s Rescue Sleep” without also airing required sponsorship identification announcements.”
“We’re pleased to see the FCC is finally waking up to the issue of fake news,” said Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press. “But the fine levied against Comcast is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Video news releases dressed up as real news were uncovered at more than 100 stations. We hope the FCC will soon fine those stations and issue clear guidelines to end the epidemic of fake news once and for all.”
Rulings such at these by the FCC have become increasingly less frequent over the past seven years. At the same time, the use of VNRs has become more wide spread. General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One are among the companies who produced VNRs with the help of three PR firms, and “[m]ore than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety,” according to Free Press.