What You See Should Be What You Get

When you turn on a TV newscast the pictures begin flickering at you and you believe what you see.  Sometimes it's images from a battlefield overseas and sometimes it's video from a neighborhood near you.  There is an expectation that what you are seeing is actually what happened and that you are not being tricked or manipulated in some way.  The Federal Communications Commission is now stepping in and fining some U.S. TV stations for, in a sense, lying to their viewers by not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 The FCC has fined two stations, one in Minnesota and one in New Jersey, for not properly disclosing that the video they used for a story on the air was actually given to them for free by a corporation.  They are called VNR's or video news releases.  We get them all the time here in the newsroom at KUSI.  They show the latest model of Toyota cruising down some beautiful country road, or maybe a close-up of the latest drug to help your arthritis.  The policy of KUSI and the FCC is that if you are going to use this video in a story, it must be identified as corporate video.  The reasoning is that the station has no control over its shooting or editing and we don't know if it accurately reflects the product or service or concept.  It's a commercial, disguised as news and that has no place in a newscast without the viewer knowing what they are getting.

 This punishment of these two TV stations, while noble in its intention, is however troublesome.  Some may say it is government intervention in broadcast journalism content and the FCC has no business controlling or influencing content.  Most journalism scholars will argue that each station and each news organization should establish their own set of rules and requirements for the use of any content and not have to be forced to do it by some government agency.  It's an argument that will be debated for generations.

 Here is the bottom line.  As a consumer of broadcast journalism, you can be skeptical.  When you see something on the screen, pay attention to its source.  If it's cars, or pills or video of kids having fun at the zoo, ask yourself if it's real or if it's part of some commercial that some company is hiding in a newscast.  Demand that your station or newscast or reporter do the right thing.  The FCC is on duty watching.  Some newsrooms already have rules in place, but some don't.  As the final editors of what you see and hear on TV, you have a responsibility too.  You must demand the truth, because what you see should be what you get.


Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook