By Steve Peacock
The U.S. State Department is planning to “buy” media broadcasts, as the Obama administration assembles a de facto propaganda machine, according to documents that reveal the president’s plans moving closer to the 2012 election.
According to information WND located via routine database research, State’s Bureau of Public Affairs is soliciting the help of “global news coverage service providers” to create and disseminate department “news.”
The selected contractor will provide “full-time, 24/7 service,” the Statement of Work for the plan said.
“The department seeks a service provider for full, turn-key news-style global television coverage of ad hoc open press events featuring the Secretary of State and other officials across the United States and throughout the world,” according to the SOW, “and to send this content back to the department’s Washington headquarters…”
Upon receiving these privately packaged productions, the department, in turn, “will distribute this video content to media organizations through an array of traditional and new media platforms.”
Indeed, just as the department is awaiting contractor bids on the project, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s representative at the World Press Freedom Day in Tunisia heaped accolades upon UNESCO for hosting the annual event.
In a “tweet” from Tunisia, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer said, “I applaud the tireless, continuing work of #UNESCO in promoting the ideals of free and open media.”
Brimmer delivered remarks on behalf of the Obama administration during the opening ceremony, along with presenting a video speech from Clinton.
Referring to the Arab Spring demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa, Clinton said, according to a prepared statement, “Voice by voice, text by text, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and many others have dared to say what they believe and stand up for their own rights.
“Many others have dared to report on what they see happening, even when their lives were at risk.”
The State Department plan is twofold: to hire a single contractor to provide television news crew services on the one hand, and to provide transmission/streaming services as a corollary service.
“The television news crew category is both one and two-person crews, and includes one and multi-camera productions,” the SOW pointed out. “The transmission category includes both traditional fiber, terrestrial and satellite-based as well as file-based and Internet delivery platforms.”
The use of such government- as well as industry-funded broadcasts, known as “video news releases,” or VNRs, has increasingly come under fire in the past decade.
VNRs “are segments designed to be indistinguishable from independently produced news reports that are distributed and promoted to television newsrooms,” according to Source Watch, a Center for Media and Democracy project that chronicles the intersecting of public relations and public policy.
The General Accountability Office – the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress – in 2005 declared that several federal entities, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, may have violated the law by disseminating VNRs as fact-based news reports.
Subsequent to the GAO’s findings, the “Stop Government Propaganda Act” was introduced to rein in and punish such activities; it died, however, after being introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Proponents of VNR distribution claim that use of the video products is wholly legitimate. The Public Relations Society of America is that a VNR simply is “the video equivalent of a press release.”
The organization does advocate that industry members abide by certain parameters to ensure the integrity of VNR usage:
- Organizations that produce VNRs should clearly identify the VNR as such and fully disclose who produced and paid for it at the time the VNR is provided to TV stations.
- PRSA recommends that organizations that prepare VNRs should not use the word “reporting” if the narrator is not a reporter.
- Use of VNRs or footage provided by sources other than the station or network should be identified as to source by the media outlet when it is aired.
Despite congressional refusal to crack down on VNRs, the Federal Communications Commission issued a reminder to licensees of their sponsor-identification requirements under the Communications Act or 1934. Rather than holding liable the creators of the reports, the commission has placed the burden of disclosure on who ultimately airs the VNR.
“These rules are grounded in the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them with the programming offered over broadcast stations and cable systems,” the FCC said.
When such VNRs are aired, “licensees and operators generally must clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material that they are viewing.”
Although the FCC continues to enforce these rules, the penalties arguably have been light.
Last year, for instance, it issued a forfeiture order to Fox Television Stations, Inc. when station affiliate KMSP-TV of Minneapolis used – but failed to identify – a General Motors-provided VNR during a news broadcast.
Among other VNR-related enforcement actions, in 2007 it imposed a $4,000 fine on Comcast Corp. for also violating the sponsorship disclosure rules. Comcast’s CN8 news affiliate in that case had aired a VNR produced on behalf of Nelson’s Rescue Sleep.
The FCC soon after separately slapped a $16,000 forfeiture against Comcast for airing two VNRs from General Mills and Allstate, respectively.
The State Department through May 21 is reviewing contractor proposals in response to the new solicitation. It did not disclose the estimated cost of the endeavor, for which it will award a year contract with four one-year options.