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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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Those Medicare videos: no covering letter, at all?

There is a legal issue about the video press releases put out by the HHS on the Medicare Act [1] that needs addressing. The shock-horror politicking is what one would expect.

But what puzzles me is exactly how local TV stations managed to put out the VPRs without realising what they were. If that, indeed, is what happened (a NYT piece fills in the details).

Campaign Desk have fingered six stations as having broadcast at least some of the VPR material, but to date shed no light on the exact sequence of events.

My understanding is that VPRs are regularly sent out by NGOs and companies to make it easy for stations with dead air to fill to cover their issue or product. Just as a large proportion of the news hole in the average rag is filled with material from text press releases, doctored just enough
  1. to hide their provenance; and

  2. to salvage a little professional pride.

I've heard no one screaming about that little fact recently [2].

Just how were the HHS VPRs presented to stations: did they just crop up in the post in a Jiffy Bag? There must have been at least a covering note from the HHS, on top of the 'scripts' that were helpfully supplied with the tapes. One suspects stations would have been shmoozed on the phone by HHS PR people in advance of the tapes' arrival.

In any case, I find it hard to believe that all concerned at the stations did not know exactly what sort of material they were dealing with when they decided to use it.

What exactly did they tell their audience? How much footage was used would be a relevant consideration: a few seconds used in some kind of montage would be one thing, an entire item something rather different.

UK practice, I think, is to show such material reluctantly, and with a graphic Footage supplied by [whoever] to distinguish it for the benefit of viewers. (Something they generally do for footage from other broadcasters, but not for agency footage, for instance.)

It would be helpful if there were an MP3 of the material online...

  1. The March 10 GAO ruling (PDF 2MB) on various other materials produced by the HHS on the Act explains the relevant law.

  2. There is concern expressed about advertorials: about the risk of their tainting editorial material, as well as the possibility that the current glut is devaluing the currency.

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