video news release

Primary tabs

Video news releases, also known as prepackaged news stories, are video segments created or funded by private corporations or government agencies to be indistinguishable from standard news programs. When broadcast on the air without disclosure of the stories’ government origins, they violate prohibitions on sponsorship disclosure.

In three separate cases—one in 2004 and two in 2005—the Government Accountability Office held that prepackaged news stories produced by government contractors constituted illegal covert propaganda.[1] Justifying these decisions, the GAO noted that “statutory limits on the domestic dissemination of U.S. government-produced news reports reflect concern that allowing the government to produce domestic news broadcasts would infringe upon the freedom of the press and constitute (or at least give the appearance of) an attempt to control public opinion.”[2]  In a letter to agency heads, GAO noted that “prepackaged news stories can be utilized without violating the law, so long as there is clear disclosure to the television viewing audience that this material was prepared by or in cooperation with the government department or agency.”[3]  The scandal over the avid use of video news releases by the Bush administration catalyzed a legislative reform effort in 2005. A bill introduced in the House would have required congressional notification for all public-relations contracts and mandated that agency-produced news materials carry a “prominent notice” of their source.[4]  That bill died in committee, however.

[1] Government Accountability Office, Unattributed Prepackaged News Stories Violate Publicity and Propaganda Provision, GAO-05-643T (May 12, 2005); Government Accountability Office, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—Video News Releases, B-302710 (May 19, 2004); Government Accountability Office, Office of National Drug Control Policy—Video News Release, B-303495 (Jan. 4, 2005); Government Accountability Office,  Department o Education—No Child Left Behind Act Video News Release and
Media Analysis, B-304228 (Sep. 30, 2005).
[2] Government Accountability Office, Prepackaged news stories, B-304272 (Feb. 17, 2005).
[3] Government Accountability Office, Prepackaged news stories, B-304272 (Feb. 17, 2005).
[4] Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act of 2005, H.R. 373, 109th Cong. (2005).