Video New Releases (VNRs) have become a form of propaganda because newscasts are playing them without source disclosure. The Center for Media and Democracy states that VNRs are “prepackaged ‘news’ segments and additional footage created by broadcast PR firms, or by publicists within corporations or government agencies. A VNR presents a client’s message, using a format and tone that mimics actual TV news Nothing in the material for broadcast identifies the PR firm—or, more importantly, the paying client or clients—behind the VNR.” (Farsetta & Price, 2006, p. 9). This means VNRs allow companies to force information on viewers by promoting their company and/or shaping public opinion to believe what they want the public to believe, by creating a story (VNR) that mimics a news segment without letting viewers know who is providing the information. Many big companies use VNRs in newscasts to either promote their company’s products or to slander a competitors company. The government has also been using VNRs to promote their party’s policies and views since the Clinton administration. Although some of the public is aware, not enough of the public knows about VNRs to stop them from happening, but with VNRs being such blatant propaganda, something will need to be done before it is too late.

An example of a government produced VNR changing public opinion would be a VNR produced by the Bush administration. This was one of the first times the public took notice to the government using VNRs. “On March 13, 2005, the New York Times published a front-page exposé revealing the prevalent production of VNRs by government agencies and their “pervasive use” by broadcast licensees without disclosing their source” (VNR Usage pg223) The Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists to promote their parties views. When asked about it, the Bush administration did not deny that they made VNRs to promote their party because they are legal and it is not the government leaving out the source information but the news stations that are playing the VNRs. Although this is all true, it is unethical to make a VNR and according to many people, our government has made plenty.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/politics/13covert.html?_r=2&position=&sq=Video%20news%20release&st=nyt&scp=1&pagewanted=print&position

A specific VNR that put the Bush administration under pressure to answer questions was the VNR talked about in the New York Times article. The article was about the Medicare prescription-drug law that the Bush administration passed. “The purpose of the video reports was to praise the new Medicare prescription-drug law” (Faux, Maybe, pg26). This is our government trying to convince people to believe the way they want them to believe by persuade people into believing the law to be the right thing for our government to do. In the video featured footage of President Bush signing the law and receiving a standing ovation for doing so. The goal of this VNR in the Bush administration’s perspective was to get people to believe they made the correct decision in passing the law. Besides the fact that the government is using our tax dollars to advertise their party’s views on newscasts, they are trying to shape the way we think about their party in a bias way because people did not know the government was the one making a video praising what they accomplished.

An example of a company produced VNR would be Trend-Micro, a company that makes
identity theft protection produces a VNR on Fox 25 News. The VNR is about hackers that use the hacking technique known as fishing, the act to obtain identity theft, and how it is becoming an increasingly concerning problem in the United States. They make the VNR look like any other news story on the newscast and even have the anchors tease the VNR before it goes on air. This not only makes people believe this is real news but it makes the audience believe it is so important that they need to stick around to see the story. At the end of the VNR, it promotes Trend-Micro’s product PCCillin Internet Security as a first line defense against fishing and explains how the product works. People who watched this VNR watched it as news, not as a commercial and they might be more inclined to by PCCillin Internet Security not because they want the product, but because the VNR scared them into buying it to keep their Identity safe. This is an unethical way to make someone buy your product because they did not know that the company that makes the identity theft product put the idea of the identity theft threat in their head to begin with. Not only that but identity theft might not even have been a concern to the people watching the newscast until they actually saw it and believed it to be real news.

One of the biggest problems people have with VNRs is the ethics in which VNRs are used. People consider VNRs to be propaganda because most newscasts do not disclose the source of the information. Because this information is being withheld, people do not know what companies use VNRs and more importantly which news segments are news and which are VNRs. Another issue involved with VNRs is who is to blame for not disclosing the source of the information that is is obtained during a VNR “The use of (VNR) footage operates in a grey zone between information and surreptitious advertising or hidden propaganda” (VNR Science mag pg870). There are many questions about whose is at fault to why VNRs have disclosed information but the truth of the matter is companies know this is what happens when they create VNRs so these companies are making them with the expectation that the sources will not be known. So while many people want to know where to put the blame, I believe everyone involved with getting a VNR into a newscast is at fault considering that the companies making VNRs and the news stations playing them know what they are doing to viewers watching.

Another problem that VNRs are starting to create now that the public is becoming increasingly aware of VNRs is that if they are not stopped, some experts believe viewers might stop watching the news on TV to get information altogether. “…Increased knowledge about VNRs without source disclosure measures might harm messages that are not employing the tactic (“false positives”) and lead to a general distrust of all media” (VNR PDR 2 pg220). If people do not know what news they are watching is real or “fake” it will become hard for people watch the news for informative purposes. VNRs are designed to be indistinguishable from other news reports in a TV newscast so even if viewers know VNRs exist, they do not know which segments of the newscasts are actual news and which segments are VNRs. When I watch the news I want to make sure the information I am receiving is true and if I become aware of my station playing VNRs during their broadcasts without it would become hard to trust that station all together.

New studies have come out to examine whether or not people who know about VNRs take the news seriously. “How individuals learn to cope with messages relates to their knowledge about the persuasion context itself. The persuasion knowledge model (PKM) examines the general set of beliefs that lay people hold about how persuasion ‘agents’” (VNR PDF 2 pg223) VNRs are extreme cases of persuasion ‘agents’ and “PKM predicts that TV news viewers who become aware of VNR practices will be more likely to believe that news is becoming commercialized” (VNR PDF 2 pg224). As the public is becoming more aware of VNRs newscasts are going to have to decide whether the money they receive from the companies is worth the risk of losing viewers due to the distrust they have in the newscast.

VNRs have become an immense problem that TV news stations have to deal with, and fast. With more people becoming aware of VNRs, people are becoming more and more concerned with whether they are receiving true information or not. Although the government could make VNRs illegal, I believe the government does not want them to be illegal becaus, the benefits of VNRs outweigh the detriments as long as enough of the nation is unaware VNRs are taking place. Although this may be true, with the government and big companies continuing to use VNRs in news segments, more people will become aware of them and will want them to be stopped. I believe the more viewers become aware of VNRs the more it will generate distrust towards news on TV and there are only so many options in which this can go.

One way to stop VNRs from being premeditated propaganda would be for the government to step in and make news stations disclose the source information or make VNRs illegal altogether. Another option would be for news stations to start disclosing the sources even though it is not mandatory for them to do so in order to keep their viewers trust in their station. The final option, which I believe is the way things are heading, is that VNRs are not going to be stopped in time by either the government or news stations until it is too late. Instead of people guessing what is real news and what is not, people will convert to using the Internet to find the news they want. This will allow people to only use websites that provide their sources and they can decide for themselves what is trustworthy. Instead of news and VNRs being weaved together like on television news stations, people can use dependable websites to avoid “fake” news altogether because the way VNRs are shown to viewers now is only immoral, not illegal. The longer VNRs stay legal, the more people will become knowledgeable about them and the worse the problem will become. Whether it be news stations or the government who winds up taking the blame for VNRs, the only thing certain is they are immoral and need to be stopped before television news stations become distrusted all together.





Work Cited:


Farsetta, D., & Price, C. (2006). Fake TV news: Widespread and undisclosed. A multimedia report on television newsrooms’ use of material provided by PR firms on behalf of paying clients. The Center for Media and Democracy, 9. Available from https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.freepress.net%2Ffiles%2Ffake_tv_news_--__widespread_and_undisclosed.pdf. Web. 21 Apr. 2011.

Newell, Jay, Jeffrey Layne Blevins, and Michael Bugeja. "Tragedies of the Broadcast Commons: Consumer Perspectives on the Ethics of Product Placement and Video News Releases." Journal of Mass Media Ethics24.4 (2009): 201 219. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.

"Faux, Maybe; Novel, No." National Review 57.6 (2005): 26-28. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.

Machill, Marcel, Markus Beiler, and Jochen Schmutz. "THE INFLUENCE OF VIDEO NEWS RELEASES ON THE TOPICS REPORTED IN SCIENCE JOURNALISM." Journalism Studies 7.6 (2006): 869-888. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.

Nelson, Michelle R., Michelle L. M. Wood, and Hye-Jin Paek. "Increased Persuasion Knowledge of Video News Releases: Audience Beliefs About News and Support for Source Disclosure." Journal of Mass Media Ethics 24.4 (2009): 220-237. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.

Aiello, Lauren, and Jennifer M. Proffitt. "VNR Usage: A Matter of Regulation or Ethics?." Journal of Mass Media Ethics 23.3 (2008): 219-234. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Apr. 2011.

Barstow, David, and Robin Stein. "Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News."Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2005. Web. 13 Apr. 2011. Available fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/politics/13covert.html_r=3&position=&sq=Video%20news%20release&st=nyt&scp=1&pagewanted=print&position.

"YouTube - Fake News: Trend-Micro - Fox 25 News VNR." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.23 Nov. 2007. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. Available fromhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuo3jD22MIw.