- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Saturated as he is in the ways of Hollywood, it’s no surprise that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger knows better than most politicians how to fashion an image for television cameras.

But recent disclosures that several state agencies have distributed video press releases masquerading as TV news reports have Democrats crying foul and news directors re-examining their policies about airing such material.

Aides to Mr. Schwarzenegger acknowledge using state money to produce “video news releases,” or VNRs, that cast an entirely favorable light on some of the administration’s most controversial policies.

The videos resemble local television news stories, complete with a suggested introductory script for anchors to read. They’re distributed via satellite for stations to use as they wish. There have been no reports of any station using one in its entirety.

Democrats, who oppose most of the policy changes that the videos are advocating, have denounced the videos as little more than taxpayer-funded propaganda and have asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer to intervene.

“I think there’s a role for video news releases when they have legitimate purposes of education, but this goes from being an educational tool to a complete scam,” said Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz.

The Bush administration had a similar flap last year, when the federal Government Accountability Office said the administration violated a prohibition against using public money for propaganda by distributing TV-news style videos promoting proposed Medicare changes. Since then, several agencies in the Bush administration have acknowledged producing TV-news style videos promoting their activities.

Video news releases have been used for years by industries to promote products. They are routinely sent to television newsrooms across the country and often provide useful video images, or “B-roll,” to help illustrate a story.

However, most TV stations have strict rules governing the use of VNRs, such as clearly labeling the source of the material when it appears on the air.

“Our official policy is not to run a VNR verbatim, and the only time we use them as B-roll is when we don’t have access to a particular shot,” said Jeffrey Weinstock, a spokesman for KRON-TV in San Francisco.


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