The stories about the prevalence of “fake news” just keep coming, and now it looks like CNN has been fingered by the Buffalo News as a news organization that runs paid content dressed up to look like an actual news report.
The News’ Thomas J. Dolan reported yesterday that a Buffalo-area company — the Amherst Industrial Development Agency (IDA) — paid a Florida production company a “licensing fee” of $19,000 in order to be featured in a “Pulse on America” segment scheduled to be aired on CNN’s Headline News network in October.
The executive director of IDA, James J. Allen, told the News that “I make no apologies. This is a great move for us. Do you know how much it would cost to produce something like this?”
Allen claims that the $19,000 he shelled out to a production company wasn’t a factor in getting the company profiled in the segment, while expressing “no concern,” according to Dolan, “that the final product, while appearing to be a news feature story, will be, effectively, paid advertising.”
The production company that put the piece on IDA together, the Platinum Television Group, describes itself on its Web site as helping “companies from around the world gain exposure via nationwide broadcast television, cable and satellite distribution systems.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with an outside production group providing content to a news organization, but what is wrong with this picture is that Platinum Television Group is producing friendly pieces, for which it collects a fee, for CNN, without CNN ever acknowledging that it’s running what in effect is an infomercial for a particular company. (CJR Daily called CNN for comment, but after being put on hold for 20 minutes, decided to forget it.)
The News’ Dolan writes that not all of Platinum’s “selections” have panned out, however. The village of Libertyville, Ill., for example, “turned down Platinum’s offer for an infomercial touting the village on its Best Places to Live program. The program was intended for broadcast on the ABC Family Channel.” Why was the offer turned down? Seems the licensing fee of $19,700 was too high. Whatever “licensing fee” means, it sounds more like Platinum pitched a service to the town, and the town wouldn’t pay the fee to be featured on a “news” segment.
Doing a Google search of “Pulse on America” and “CNN” turns up all manner of press releases from companies “selected” by Platinum to be featured on “Pulse on America.” What the press releases don’t say, however, is that after having been “selected,” they presumably had to pay a large “licensing fee” in order to get their message out to CNN viewers, who think they’re watching a straight news segment.
It’s time that CNN come clean on this practice, and let viewers know what it is they’re watching: content that has been bought and paid for by interested parties that presents itself as news, but is anything but.