Fake News is a Real Pain

On October 9 we reported that the Federal Communications Commission's Enforcement Division has sent Letters of Inquiry to all 77 stations mentioned in the Center for Media and Democracy's study, Fake TV News, concerning TV stations whose newscasts have used video news releases without identifying them as, well, press releases. Among those stations is our own WFAA-Channel 8, for reasons explained by our old pal Rick Kennedy in May: WFAA ran pieces of a spot "produced by DS Simon Productions in New York [that] was originally commissioned by a Spanish company to tout the wonders of its two diet supplements designed to relieve arthritis pain."

The FCC investigation is not only annoying--the agency is demanding reams of paperwork from all 77 stations being investigated--but also troublesome. It says in today's subscription-only Communications Daily that the VNR investigation is "delaying license renewals for TV stations because the Commission doesn't typically approve the extensions while complaints are pending." Twelve of the 77 being investigated have had their licenses come up for renewal since the Center for Media and Democracy's study was released, and among them is WFAA-Channel 8.

Here's what Communications Daily has to say about the impact of the investigation:

Broadcasters can keep operating with complaints pending, but stations find it inconvenient, said industry lawyer Stuart Shorenstein: "Any cloud on the license bothers the ownership of the station and creates something to explain or creates an impediment to unsophisticated lenders or to people less familiar with the industry." The FCC will likely soon examine a procedure to let affected stations get license renewals, said Mark Fratrik of broker BIA Financial. "I think the Commission wants television to be more competitive, [and] stronger, so I can't imagine why they would stay in the way" of deals, he said: "The VNR issue is a new thing so it may disrupt things for a while." TV licenses come up for renewal every 8 years.

We have no doubt WFAA will ultimately get its license renewed; we hear Gary Cogill is an excellent parallel parker. Try the veal. I'm here forever. --Robert Wilonsky