The report noted a disturbing trend of local TV stations airing advertiser-crafted content—in the form of video press releases, segments, or whole shows—without adequately disclosing to the viewers that it’s really advertorial. The stations already must disclose this at the end of the broadcast; the Information Needs report recommended that this information be put online as well.
The FCC declined to take that step right now. Journalists and citizens should keep the pressure on. Here’s another opportunity for journalists or the industry itself to take the lead. Why doesn’t the National Association of Broadcasters call on its members to voluntarily put this information online? Why doesn’t the Radio and TV Digital News Directors—which, inexplicably, opposed the FCC’s political transparency rule—take the lead in requesting, or demanding, that their own stations take this important step? Local TV newsrooms forever complain when they’re not taken as seriously as newspaper reporters. In many cases the irritation is justified but in the first round of this fight, it was notable that the TV news directors sided with TV station owners, not with other journalists, and not for the interests of their viewers. Here’s a chance for them to show that they genuinely care about viewers being better informed.
The FCC rule is a hugely important step. But its ultimate significance will depend greatly on how reporters, citizens, and the industry follow up.