FCC to fine Comcast for blurring line between news, ads

News reports say the Federal Communications Commission is proposing to fine Comcast $4,000 “for airing a pitch for a sleep aid without telling viewers that the spot was financed by the maker of the product . . .  the first time a company has been sanctioned for airing a video news release.”  

Here is the FCC order.

An article from Advertising Age quotes Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s senior director-corporate communications, as calling the company “perplexed” by the action.

“The relevant statute does not cover cable programming, and even if it did, CN8’s programming was entirely consistent with the statute,” (Fitzmaurice told AdAge). “The segments in question were chosen by journalists in the course of reporting, and Comcast received no consideration or benefit by using the material. We will reiterate these facts in our response.”

The AdAge article traces the roots of the controversy about video news releases to:

 “before the 2004 election when the Department of Health and Human Services produced a video news release for a Medicare prescription drug benefit not due to take effect until 2005 . . . The Center for Media and Democracy along with another group, Free Press, eventually filed complaints with the FCC about 111 TV stations and cable providers running video news releases without identification, including Comcast. Last night’s action was the first response by the FCC to the complaints. “