FCC Fines Affiliates for Fake News Reports

Two TV stations must pay for failing to identify their use of video press releases in news segments

Two network affiliates must each pay a $4,000 fine for failing to identify the sources behind news segments they broadcast that featured company-produced video news releases.  

The FCC imposed the fines against the licensees of Minneapolis Fox affiliate KMSP-TV and South New Jersey NBC affiliate WMGM-TV for violating FCC rules that requires broadcasters to disclose a sponsor in a broadcast in which “money, service or other valuable consideration is directly or indirectly paid, or promised to or charged or accepted by the station.”

In October 2006, WMGM-TV aired a news segment on treating the common cold that featured Zicam, an anti-cold nasal spray containing zinc. The broadcast featured an edited version of a video news release by Matrixx Initiatives, the manufacturers of Zicam produced to market the product. 

Even though the station received no “valuable consideration,” FCC said this week that the rule required broadcasters to identify Matrixx Initiatives because of the extent to which the segment featured the product. The segment didn’t mention any other cold remedies by brand name, according to the FCC.

KMSP-TV in June 2006 aired what appeared to be a news report on increased consumer demand for convertible cars in the summer. The station received the video news release from Fox News Edge, a news service for broadcast stations affiliated with the Fox Network. It solely featured General Motors convertibles.

Fox said that neither the station nor any of its employees received or was promised consideration in exchange for broadcasting the video news release. Fox further argued that using a corporate video news release material in the station’s news report was no different from quoting from a press release, which doesn’t require a sponsorship announcement.

FCC rejected these arguments.  

Washington D.C.-based Free Press and Center for Media and Democracy filed the complaints against the stations following a 2006 investigation in which the media advocacy groups identified 98 separate instances where stations aired corporate video news releases without disclosing the sources of the materials to viewers.

“If we can’t trust the news to tell us what’s happening in our communities without trying to sell us something, it’s easy to become cynical and dismiss what they say even when we’re getting the truth,” Craig Aaron, Managing Director of Free Press said.