The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, March 19, 2004

Medicare videos: editors play dumb

So far as I can tell, the American Society of Newspaper Editors is an august body of long standing, before whose assembled memberships presidents of the United States are wont to orate [1].

On the HHS video news releases, however, they have decided to regress to junior high, with an open letter to Tommy Thompson.

They say
It is fair, of course, for the government to communicate with citizens via press releases on video as well as in print.

There's a but coming?

It is not ethical or appropriate, however, to employ people to pose as journalists, either on or off camera.

Is that not ethical or appropriate just for government? Or not at all? Because, from what I read, these damned VNRs are filling local TV stations' in-trays.

A doubt may be forming in your mind at this point. Because the government can only
communicate with citizens via press releases on video
if some TV station is willing to put them on air.

An impression that the ANSE is intent on denying the responsibility of their broadcast colleagues is strengthened when one finds the letter continuing:
Certainly, material distributed to television stations that doesn't identify the government as the source...

An apparent ambiguity there: does it mean identified to the broadcaster or to the viewer?

Because I find it hard to believe - as I've mentioned before - that the tapes and accompanying scripts sent to the stations did not have covering letters saying exactly what the VNRs were about. At which point it was entirely up to the station what it did.

The way the sentence ends [2] seems to resolve the ambiguity: the complaint is that the audience, not the broadcaster, was left in the dark.

But, if the broadcaster was not in any doubt about the material, that makes his responsibility all the clearer, surely? All sorts of material - tip-offs about crime, sex stories, government misfeasance and the like - will be coming into a local newsroom every day. Does the station put all those stories on air?

Of course not. Because they don't come wrapped in a bow on a nice, broadcast-quality tape that slips so easily into the machine, it seems criminal not to use it.

  1. As, for example, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Clinton.

  2. "...and ends with a voice-over such as "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting" is outside the bounds of ethical behavior for HHS or any other government agency."

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