The RTNDA Undermines TV Journalism—with a little help from the most powerful pro-consolidation media lobbyist. RTNDA asks for a cover-up of the VNR scandal

The Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) is working to further undermine the ability of TV reporters and producers to engage in serious electronic journalism. In a nearly two dozen-page filing to the FCC on October 5, RTNDA comes to the defense of the use of Video News Releases. RTNDA actually told the Commission “…VNRs often are a source of newsworthy material of particular interest to the public which stations may not be able to obtain through other means.” Why would the RTNDA support the practice of using VNRs? It’s because the organization is both shortsighted and a political tool of TV owners. RTNDA doesn’t really represent the interests of reporters—but the bosses. It is trying to quash an FCC investigation into 77 TV stations identified in a report for failing to disclose VNRs. Everyone in the news biz knows that the reliance on VNRs—even by network O and O’s– is a cancer on electronic journalism. VNRs—placed by both commercial and government PR efforts—undermine serious reportage. But with station owners and news managers forcing local news to be a ever growing profit center, VNRs have become a form of information `cocaine.’ Too many stations are willing to sell time for the promotion of propaganda at worst and stealth commercial spots at best. Or they want to rely on free materials coming from special interests in order to save money on actually producing their own news.

Richard Wiley
The RTNDA should be telling the FCC that such outside “spin” oriented content should be prohibited by the industry itself. News should be produced by a local station, its contractors, network feeds, wires. Not by a pyramid scheme coming from PR flacks. One sign that RTNDA is working for owners—and not journalists or the public—is the use of arch media lobbyist Richard Wiley’s law firm [that’s Mr. Wiley’s picture above]. It is the Wiley firm which has been leading the media lobby campaign to wipe out ownership diversity safeguards—all so its clients can control more properties both in a single community and nationally.

The RTNDA wants the FCC to immediately kill its investigation of the stations involved in the VNR scandal. Incredibly, the RTNDA told the FCC that by investigating the charges made by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), it is “following the lead of an organization that is unrelenting in its hostility to the principles of free speech and a free press…” Such venomous, inaccurate, and out-right loony language illustrates how out of touch RTNDA’s leadership is. An organization concerned about electronic journalism requires leaders who place the First Amendment rights of TV reporters, producers and the public first. Not, as RTNDA just did, the political agenda of station owners, the National Association of Broadcasters, and media lobbyists such as Dick Wiley.

We think the RTNDA is violating its own Code of Ethics, which requires that “[P]rofessional electronic journalists should recognize that their first obligation is to the public.” We hope there are board members courageous enough to call for the organization to re-think its whole approach to media policy.

Disclosure: My organization occasionally works with a close colleague of CMD—Free Press. I also admire the work of CMD—which has done a first-rate job at exposing the invisible connections between the public relations industry, its clients, and public policy. I don’t believe, as Wiley argues, that such an FCC investigation will have a chilling effect. There do need to be limits about what government can do with the news media. But when news organizations act irresponsibly in a way that deceives the public, action is required. What is wrong—Ms. Cochran and Mr. Wiley—with a little sunshine?

Democrats Wrong to Ask that 9/11 TV Movie Be Kept “Off The Air”—But They Should Be Asking Hard Questions About the Lack of Quality News and Entertainment and Media Policies

We don’t agree with the drumbeat coming from Democrats and others that this weekend’s Disney/ABC TV movie be pulled. Censoring such content is unhealthy in a democracy. ABC cannot afford to buckle under from Dem critics. The Dems pressure campaign, while helping to bring about some (much needed) editorial changes, appears self-serving. The Clinton Administration does bear some responsibility for the country’s lack of understanding about the rising tide of anger against the U.S. from abroad. The Clinton folks weren’t saints. Think what they did to the poor with welfare reform; how their egos bungled getting us national health care; or how they hailed the passage of the lobbyist-written (and media concentration giving) 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Democrats, by the way, were openly critical of CBS buckling under GOP pressure when the network cancelled its airing of “The Reagans” in 2003 (parent company Viacom eventually ran it on pay cable channel Showtime).

TV movies have always been confabulated affairs. Granted, Disney/ABC should have hired writers who are politically independent. And they should have stuck to the “script” of the actual 9/11 Commission report. But the real problem is that our media consolidated, ratings and right demographic audience targeted TV system isn’t focused at all on providing the public with a steady and serious examination of the world. TV lives in a fantasyland so it can better generate profits from advertisers. The networks and stations have no real public interest responsibilities, thanks to years of scuttling FCC rules. Congress keeps giving the TV networks everything they want, such as billions of free airwaves. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and at the FCC over the years have given permission for the TV industry to engage in ever-lowering standards. Except for Newt Minow’s sharp retort back in 1961 that television was giving the public a “vast wasteland,” broadcasters and cable companies have been given high-fives from a Congress satisfied with the system (meaning lots of campaign contributions and little analytical coverage of what’s really going on).

Rather than ask Disney to drop this docudrama, it would better if the Democrats called for a serious national debate about the quality of TV in the U.S. I’m not saying censorship. But they should be asking the TV industry to provide the public with more in-depth news and analysis—locally and nationally. No more 22 minute evening news broadcasts or countless headlines repeated on cable TV. We require serious investigative reports and more time overall spent on examining the country’s myriad problems—and what can be done about them. The networks should be urged to produce TV movies and series that are derived from (dare I say it) literature. TV should be asked to embrace young writers and other creators from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to develop programming that changes the dumbing down formula of television. [Are they coming to take me away yet!].

The Dems—and the GOP—should also call for public policies that ensure the public can receive a more diverse stream of content. They means network neutrality for the Internet, along with new rules that prevent the broadcast, cable, and satellite business from being TV gatekeepers. The TV conglomerates must be required to pass thru to viewers and users all news and public affairs programming–especially in this era of interactive digital media (such as video on demand, etc).

Ultimately, we need a more informed U.S. public if we are to better understand the real path to 9/11, so many other critical issues, and what we must do to address them. That should be the drumbeat of the DNC and others.

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