(KTLA declined to discuss use of VNRs in its newscast.)
Newscasters across the country say government action is not necessary. The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) has guidelines for disclosure requirements, and most newsrooms have either written or well-understood directives.
"Anything we put on the air, not generated by us, we should divulge where we got it," says Brad Remington, vice president and news director at KTVI, a St. Louis station named in the CMD study. He acknowledges that violations can take place, but says they are rare and isolated. "Most of our people know not to use them," he says, adding that the use of a VNR on his station "was a mistake, which I'm not happy about."
In the wake of concern over the use of government VNRs a year ago, RTNDA reaffirmed the guidelines for its roughly 3,000 members, says president Barbara Cochran. "It's a matter of ethics and responsibility of the news organization itself to be honest with its audience and protect the integrity of the news product," says Cochran. "It should be market forces not government regulation that protects it."
Broadcasters have a special obligation, says Matt Felling, media director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, particularly when it comes to the news. "Consumers are used to watching the news and putting on a filter when the commercial comes on," he says, but undisclosed commercial messages inside the newscast abuse that. "If broadcasters are addressing consumers when that 'filter' is off, it's reducing the newscast to little more than a corporate blog."
Another factor is public dependence on TV news. A recent Harris Poll found that 77 percent of adults rely on local TV news and 71 percent use national or cable news several times a week or daily.
Felling calls VNRs and other commercialization, "the wolf in sheep's clothing of today's media age." And while market forces may help correct the problem, they are also part of the problem, say other observers.