Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Don't Trust Your Evening News

During my twenty years in marketing I've learned that pretty much everything around us is manipulated and set up in a way to persuade us to buy something.

I have to admit that before I started my career in pharma I had no idea that corporate propaganda was so insidious. Like most, I saw the ads and the billboards and heard the radio jingles and thought that was pretty much what marketing was all about.

I was so wrong. Soon I learned how drug companies used ghostwritten articles signed off by big name doctors, placed in a prestigious journals, to achieve their marketing objectives.

I learned that nothing was as effective as a dinner meeting at which one drug company paid doctor facilitated a discussion with other doctors who simply got dinner. Prescriptions literally sky rocketed after those meetings and the company that invented them eventually went public.

I also learned how patient organizations, always in need for money was only too willing to become the well paid accomplice of the drug company, whipping up protests when the right drug didn't get reimbursement or acting as "experts" in front of congressional committees.

And, of course, after having watched product placement on American Idol we all now know that it isn't a coincident that glasses with Coke emblazoned on them are always in front of the judges. Perhaps it also shouldn't be surprising that the cars James Bond drives in his recent movies are not a coincident, but part of a carefully orchestrated media strategy for which the lucky company had to pay dearly.

Most of us think that the last bastion is the evening television news--it may be biased, but at least we get the news straight from the journalists without the Big Corporations pulling the strings.


Over a ten month period the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) documented television newsrooms' use of 36 video news releases (VNR's) to find out how many of these corporate PR videos were used without telling viewers.

VNRs are pre-packaged "news" segments and additional footage created by PR firms. These VNR's are designed to be integrated into newscasts, and are provided free of charge to TV stations with the corporation hoping the TV station will air them. TV stations, strapped for cash and resources, often use this shortcut. Nothing in the VNR identifies who paid for the news release so viewers cannot know if the news segment they're watching was bought and paid for by a corporation.

CMD identified 77 television stations, from those in the largest to the smallest markets that aired these VNRs in 98 separate instances, without disclosure to viewers.

Collectively, these 77 stations reach more than half of the U.S. population.

The VNRs were produced by three broadcast PR firms for 49 different clients, including Pfizer, General Motors, and Intel.

CMD found that in each case these VNR's were used, the television stations actively disguised the sponsored content to make it appear to be their own reporting. In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research. More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety.

Why is this bad?

It is bad because television remains the dominant news source in the United States. More than three-quarters of U.S. adults rely on local TV news, and more than 70 percent turn to network TV or cable news on a daily or near-daily basis.

The integrity of television reporting impacts the public's ability to evaluate everything from consumer products to medical services to government policies and when television stations use paid propaganda they cheat their viewers out of the ability to make informed decisions.

And finally, the Federal Communications Commission has "launched an investigation" of dozens of television stations, for airing corporate-sponsored and -scripted segments on news programs, without disclosing their sources. You'd think they'd have been on this case years ago, but not until embarrassed enough by a third party organization did they start to lift a finger. Oh well, press releases are cheap. I'd be soo surprised if anything actually comes out of their "investigation."

So, don't trust your evening news. You may simply be watching a disguised commercial.

Read more here.

And watch fake news from Pfizer here.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Concise, to the point, and very much needed!

Anonymous said...

Great article, but I am a little worried about patient organizations as paid accomplices? I regularly participate in petitions on medical issues, such as healthcare, and CAPS on Malpractice awards, but I am NOT PAID by anyone, rather I am motivated by the idea that I am helping people. Request to participate come from various sources to me; I have no idea how they find me. I seriously believe in CAPS on Malpractice awards, and national health care policies, and that is based on personal experiences. I do reason things out. Could I still be a fool, nevertheless?

Peter Rost said...

Always check who is paying. Where does the "patient organization" get their money from? The one who pays make the decisions . . .