FCC Slaps Comcast's Wrist for Faking Video PR Release as 'News'

27 September 2007

WASHINGTON, DC: The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday delivered a testy 'tssssk' to Comcast. Its reprimand was accompanied by a proposed $4,000 fine - mere petty cash to America's largest cable company.

Comcast's sin?

To air on its CN8 channel a 'video news release' for slumber-aid nostrum Nelson's Rescue Sleep without revealing that it was effectively a commercial produced by public relations company D S Simon Productions, as opposed to a bona fide newscast.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau now plans to issue a Notice of Liability demanding four thousand greenbacks - a sum roughly equivalent to the annual bottled water account for Comcast's boardroom.

However, the move has significance beyond its dollar value, in that for the first time it extends the FCC's remit beyond broadcast networks to cable and satellite viewing - until now forbidden territory.

The FCC argues that its jurisdiction extends to a cable system in certain circumstances.

Specifically: "When a cable television system operator engages in origination cablecasting, it must identify the sponsor of a material whenever that operator accepts money, service or other valuable consideration to air that material."

The Comcast damage limitation machine swung into action, claiming that the showing of parts of a VNR for a homeopathic sleeping aid as part of a newscast on CN8 did not violate the rules.

Countered company spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice: "The segments in question were chosen by journalists in the course of reporting, and Comcast received no consideration or benefit by using the material."

The FCC's action against Comcast sets a significant precedent in that it firmly rejects the PR industry's argument that no disclosure is needed if television stations are not paid to air VNRs.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff