Comcast Fined For Airing Fake News Without Revealing It Was Fake

from the this-ain't-Jon-Stewart dept

Over the last few years there's been quite a bit of controversial over the practice of biased parties putting together video news releases. They look like typical local news feature segments on a particular topic, but they're actually put together by companies, PR agencies or even government agencies. Cheap or lazy TV stations will often air them as filler, though they rarely explain the origins of the report (and often will play them off as the work of their own news agency). The FCC has been warning stations about the practice of airing these videos without disclosure, but it hasn't had much of an impact. That may be changing. The FCC has now fined Comcast $4,000 for airing one such VNR, about some kind of sleeping pill without disclosing that the "news" report was produced by the company that made the sleeping pill. While it's nice that someone is cracking down on this deceptive practice, there are questions over jurisdiction. The FCC has jurisdiction over broadcast TV, but not necessarily cable TV. If anything, this seems like the sort of thing that the FTC should be looking into, rather than the FCC. Either way, the point should be clear: TV stations that are airing these videos may start to be a bit more careful (and a bit more open) about using them.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    identicon
    Greg, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:09am

    $4000? Seriously? That's not even a slap on the wrist!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:17am

    Yeah, four fucking thousand dollars? That's just a pathetic fine for a company.

     

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    krm, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:35am

    the Gov. probably spent more in attorney's fees, writing up the fine

     

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    Michael G, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:36am

    Only in America...

    What the hell is going on here in America when not even the news media is to be trusted, but of course this is America and the sad fact is we already knew that.

     

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      The Swiss Cheese Monster, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:29am

      Re: Only in America...

      Are you suggesting that the news is more trustworthy in other countries? Like China perhaps?

       

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    Dirtboy, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:41am

    The fine was just a shot across the bow. Just a slap on the wrist to make all the other stations take notice. If it doesn't stop they will probably start fining companies more. This way, the first offender isn't hurt very bad and all the other companies have a chance to change their ways.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 8:42am

    How long was the segment? It would typically cost them MUCH more than that to produce even a short segment so I'm not sure how this is really a "fine". Sounds more like a small production cost.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:02am

    It is a warning. They are letting the industry know that this practice is subject to more intense scrutiny in the future. The FCC may also be attempting to get FTC and Congress's attention so that they look into the matter.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:39am

    News in America is more about entertainment and political opinions than reporting the facts.

     

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    Drkkgt, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:41am

    Besides

    Even if it was a bigger fine, Comcast would just suddenly add a FCC benevolent recovery tax to it's subscribers to recoup.

     

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    Andi, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:45am

    One more reason to trust the news

    This is another cash before integrity issue. Most TV stations are not rolling in dough. They are EXTREMELY competitive. In my opinion, there needs to be a better framework that allows for proper funding of serious TV stations. Imagine no more infomercials!

     

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    Colin LeMahieu, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Am I the only one who thinks this whole procedure is completely incorrect?

    This clearly falls under the first amendment; news reporting has never been 100% correct, factual, and unbiased and to say it must be is an infringement on speech and press.

     

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      dazcon5, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      It was a false/fake report, that wasn't disclaimed as being such. Lying is not covered under first amendment.

       

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      norman619, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 11:19am

      Re:

      Nope. Just like you can't yell "FIRE!" in a crowded room you should not be able to knwoingly present a 100% bogus new release w/o letting peopel knwo it's not real news. A better example of a reason this rule exists is the old Orson Wells War Of The Worlds radio broadcast. People unaware it's staged went bonkers and there was mass panic.

       

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        Colin LeMahieu, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 2:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Really? So when I watched the episode of Babylon 5 where the entire show mocks a news cast, they should have disclaimed that this wasn't a real news cast and we don't in fact actually have a space station orbiting a distance planet?

        Can't we just admit that some people in this world are idiots?

        "A sucker is born every minute."
        "Don't believe everything you hear."

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:45pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Really? So when I watched the episode of Babylon 5 where the entire show mocks a news cast, they should have disclaimed that this wasn't a real news cast and we don't in fact actually have a space station orbiting a distance planet?
          The notion that the Comcast news reports were just as obviously fake is absurd. Only one of your one-a-minute suckers would believe that. And I certainly won't be believing much I hear from you now.

           

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Sep 26th, 2007 @ 10:23am

    Re #12

    At least the news tells you where the report comes from, even if they do Zero fact checking. The issue here is that they never mentioned that it was the pill company's advert.

     

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    Ddissent, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 10:39am

    Fuck Comcast

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 10:42am

    With a fine that small, they might as well not have done anything at all.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 11:05am

    Saying F*%K Costs How Much???

    The fine for swearing on TV or radio is up to how much now?!? But perpetrating fraud is virtually free at only $4k.

    What the hell is wrong with this picture???

     

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    JS Beckerist (profile), Sep 26th, 2007 @ 11:33am

    Question:

    Don't most of these "fillers" have "this is a paid advertisement" or some other warning, at least at the beginning? I never find it difficult to tell the difference between news and corporate crap. One is generally trying to incite emotion to raise their ratings, the other is trying to incite emotion to raise their profits... Any "news agency" that's trying to sell me something isn't a news agency.

     

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    Rob, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 12:04pm

    Bank of America is the devil...

    Unrelated? Yes, but thought I'd share.

     

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    Overcast, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 12:15pm

    Yeah, 4 grand could just easily be factored into the 'advertising' cost, lol

     

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    Overcast, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 12:18pm

    Of course, now that I think of it - it may end up being a real life example of the boy who cried wolf.

    People don't believe the news media much now as it is. This should serve to only intensify that.

     

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    qabal, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 1:31pm

    What is the big deal? The television has ALWAYS been a commercial medium (even so called "public" television provides advertising for corporate sponsors). Airing news releases is a practice as old as the news. Or did you really think all of the Iphone, Halo 3, and gaming console news stories were generated by hard working reporters? Not a chance, in most cases they cribbed a couple of news releases and called it a "story".

    These high profile releases saw a large amount of exposure because they tend to draw in key marketing demographics. For companies who have products that are not as sexy, a pre-packaged news release is simply a clever expedient to increase the chance a station airs their release. It is simple: video is sexier than copy, and an extra 30 second package can mean the talking heads dont have to chatter inanely or shuffle papers uncomfortably until the camera shuts off.

    As for the legal issues involved:
    1.Showing the video without attribution to the creator. Not an issue if the creator waives all rights to recognition.
    2.Truth in advertising. Not an issue unless the claims made in the video are improper. Stations are liable only to providing due diligence to investigate the claims.
    3. Payola: Not an issue unless the stations are receiving compensation in exchange for airing the video.

    If none of the above are being violated, it is a news story. It may not be a good story, or even interesting, but it IS news. If you know more after watching than before, it is news. Whether you care is totally irrelevant.

    I would also like to add that the size of the fine is pretty telling. If the FCC felt this issue was strongly within their sphere of control, the fine would be significantly higher. As it is, the cost to defend will dwarf the fine so most stations will pay it rather than fight. The FCC is counting on creating a precedent of acceptance to prove out their "power" in this area. In the end, it is an empty threat as the FCC is a passive organization that relies on watchdogs and special reports to identify potential violations.

    Personally, I expect this will go away as the advertising lobbies will quietly place pressure in appropriate areas. The act is not a crime, however the reaction is a sin. The FCC broke the only commandment of the 21st century: Thou shalt not infringe upon a corporations power to make money.

    In the future, keep in mind the following points:

    1. News programs are commercial endeavors. If they do not make a profit, they go away.
    2. The age of Tivo guarantees that commercial messages will creep back in to content (a la American Idol, or the classic "soap opera"). It is the nature of the medium.
    3. News stories do not have a stranglehold on the truth. Feel free to watch, but take it all with a grain of salt: They are trying to sell you something.

     

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    Colin LeMahieu, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 1:55pm

    @dazcon5 - Really? Can you quote to me the first amendment clause where it doesn't cover lying? Are you saying all lying is illegal or just lying on TV? What if the lying is part of a TV show and not between parts of a TV show usually set aside for advertising? Is writing Science fiction considered lying? Do they have to disclaim what parts of a science fiction show are real and which are made up?

    If a political cartoon says "Scientific studies show our president is a monkey" do they have to disclaim it with "There are no conclusive studies as to whether our president is a monkey." Which part are they lying about? If the claim is a lie, how do we know the disclaimer is truth?

    Do you have any rhyme or reason, logical, legal, or otherwise that makes you think the first amendment doesn't cover lying on TV?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2007 @ 9:47pm

    Now here's a company that's just trying to be innovative and here comes the government barging in.

     

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