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FCC Fines KMSP, WMGM for Airing Corporate Video

The FCC has levied fines against two stations for not properly disclosing the corporate involvement of news segments that aired in 2006.

Last week the FCC issued $4,000 fines against KMSP, a Fox O&O in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and WMGM, an NBC-affiliate in South Jersey, for “apparent willful violation of section 317 of the Communications Act,” which requires stations to air a sponsorship identification announcement when broadcasting a segment that has been aided or funded by a sponsor.

The offending segments used footage taken from video news releases (VNRs) and didn’t disclose this fact or offer footage of competing brands.

In the case of WMGM, the station aired footage taken from a Zicam VNR during a health segment about using zinc-based medicine (such as Zicam) to fight the common cold. The segment included shots of Zicam as well as a doctor’s recommendation to use it, while not offering coverage of competing brands.

Making the incident more complicated was the fact that the WMGM segment actually had a corporate sponsor, Shore Memorial Hospital, which the station identified. Facing FCC scrutiny, the station argued that the segment did not require a Zicam announcement because they did not receive any money from the company that makes Zicam.

A similar argument was used by KMSP in its case. KMSP’s offending segment centered on the sale of new convertibles, specifically ones made by General Motors. The station used footage from a GM VNR but did not receive any compensation for doing so.

KMSP argued that the FCC’s inquiries encroached on the station’s editorial discretion. The Fox O&O noted that, according to FCC rules, the inclusion of text from press releases doesn’t necessarily require an announcement so including video from a VNR shouldn’t warrant an announcement either.

“We are currently reviewing the matter and will respond at the appropriate time to the FCC,” a spokesperson for Fox Television Stations told TVSpy. Fox has until April 8th to appeal.

Here are transcripts from the two segments…

WMGM:

[Reporter]  A national survey by Harris Interactive, shows only nine percent of travelers over the age of thirty say they feel very knowledgeable about how to treat the common cold.  This is especially important as we begin the cold and flu season and one of the biggest travel times of the year.

[Voiceover]  Nearly two-thirds of U.S. travelers [thirty] and over say they are somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about treating the common cold, according to the new Zicam Travel Well Survey conducted by Harris Interactive.  Yet [two] out of [five] travelers surveyed say colds have negatively impacted their trips.

Allison Janse wrote Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds & Flu, she says being a mother of premature twins made her start researching how to avoid germs.

[Caption:  Allison Janse, Author]  You can do everything I say in my book.  You can eat right, exercise, walk around in a bubble suit.  But, eventually, you’re gonna get sick.  And in m[y] research, I found that homeopathic zinc products can shorten the duration of your illness.

[Voiceover]  Travelers are at [an] increased risk of getting sick because of things like greater exposure to viruses, stress and other variables.  The survey showed [four] in [five] of the U.S. travelers surveyed believe the worst time to catch the common cold is while traveling. Dr. Mark Siegel of New York University says that obtaining relief is possible, but that it’s important to begin treatment as soon as symptoms occur.

[Caption:  Dr. Marc Siegel, New York University]  There is no cure for the common cold.  But  there are some things you can do to get better. Especially in the first 48 hours.  You can take an intranasal zinc preparation, like Zicam.  To cut down on the severity and duration of symptoms.  You can also take a decongestant.  Get more rest.  Drink some chicken soup.  And sleep.

[Voiceover]  Nearly [ninety] percent of the U[.]S[.] travelers survey [sic] say reducing the duration of the common cold would be important or very important for treating the common cold, but only [thirty-three] percent of those travelers who typically use over-the-counter medications to treat the common cold, have used a zinc cold remedy.

[Allison Janse] I think the survey showed me that people really need help figuring out how to treat a common cold when they’re on the go. For instance, most people don’t know that zinc products are available to help them.  I mean, yes, we’d like to avoid all germs and never get sick, but that’s not gonna happen. If you do get sick, there are things you can do to fight back.

[Reporter]  To see this report again or to find out more about zinc as a treatment for the common cold, go to our website

And KMSP:

Voiceover: Thinking of getting a convertible now that summer is here? Well think fast. The buzz around this year’s convertibles, many brand-new and affordable, means there may not be many left.

[Caption: Bob Lutz, General Motors] “The Solstice is sold out. The Sky is sold out. The Pontiac G6 convertible is sold out.”

Bob Lutz, who has worked at all three domestic manufacturers, is now the head of product development at General Motors. He was hired 5 years ago to revive GM’s much criticized product line – and the hope is that the success he’s had bringing these new convertibles to market will continue across the entire company.

[Caption: Jean Jennings, Automobile Magazine] “Does General Motors have the ability to make cars that people want? Yes they do. It’s absolutely clear. This is the key to their survival and on top of that, I have seen, as many journalists have, cars that are scheduled for the next couple of years and I’ll tell you that if those cars were on the road right now
today, I don’t think they’d be in this jam at all.”

But Lutz knows [that] making higher quality automobiles is only part of the equation–changing a generation[’]s worth of less-than-favorable opinions is the real battle.

“What we’re seeing is the old beliefs about General Motors, which we probably earned over twenty, twenty-five years. The old beliefs of all our cars look the same, our quality isn’t very good, the vehicles use a lot of gas, none of that stuff is true anymore but these perceptions linger.”

However[,] the good looking convertibles coming from GM may be changing that perception, as well as the company’s fortunes. America’s largest manufacturing company actually turned a profit in the first quarter of ‘06.

Complaints about the segments were filed with the FCC by Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy.

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