Video News Releases (VNRs) began as a PR stunt to reach large audiences watching television news. Now, thousands of VNRs are sent to news networks on a weekly basis, but the usage of this material has become controversial. Broadcasting content produced by any entity besides the news station or affiliate station may or may not be coming from a credible source; however, in some cases this content might still be meaningful to the public if properly regulated. Both citizens and local news stations have put in place their own forms of enforcement against broadcasting biased or untruthful VNRs; therefore, I believe there is no immediate need for a strict federal or state laws banning VNR material from television news.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a citizen-run organization that promotes truthfulness in VNR content in news broadcasts. They also run a website called SourceWatch which monitors corporations through organizations and individual citizens reporting any usage of VNR material that may be false or biased. CMD has accused multiple media production companies for airing VNR content without providing a source, which has led the FCC to enforce the proper source disclosure of VNR content when used in news packages.
After the April 2006 report by CMD accusing local news stations of withholding third-party sources the FCC began to fine media hubs. An example comes from 2007 when the FCC fined Comcast for airing VNRs without source disclosure. Since the FCC began this enforcement, media companies have put in place their own reasonable regulations about airing VNR content. For instance, the NBC policy on VNR material is that they do not show it unless it has meaningful value, such as a military holiday greeting. However, on the occasions when VNR content is deemed appropriate the sources must be disclosed to the viewers. VNR content that must be sighted could include B-roll or any other video footage in a news package. Below is an example of a VNR that aired on Fox News posted by a user on YouTube.
I believe it was rightfully up to Fox News to air the VNR about cyber security, even though it was promoting a software. However, it is the news station's responsibility to clarify the story's credibility. The story can be useful to viewers if it is real, but if it is fake then Fox News may be guilty of not checking their sources or of taking a bribe.
Although currently both news stations and citizens are promoting the regulation against withholding source information on VNR material, the controversy may become more more prominent in coming years. We live in a society that needs to be constantly updated, which means more news production, which could mean less overall content being aired in each show. In order to fill a 30 minute or 1 hour time slot news stations may need to utilize more third-party sources for content. The future may still reveal a more strict federal regulation on broadcasting VNR material.