Free Press has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission asking it to open a new investigation into "covert commercials in news programs" and to conclude investigations the agency launched on undisclosed video news releases that the organization and others complained about back in 2006 and 2007.
The group says the use of "covert commercials," often without the required FCC disclosures, is on the rise.
In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski asking for the investigation, it cited a Los Angeles Times column earlier this month about a toy promoter, whose morning news recommendations were not identified as paid for by toy companies, and a story from last April on a hospital-sponsored health segment on KCBS.
Free Press also wants the FCC to crack down in cases where "local stations may be abiding by the FCC disclosure rules" but the public "still may not realize they are watching paid propaganda."
In addition to wanting the FCC to better police when broadcasters are violating the disclosure rules altogether, Free Press has been pushing the commissionto increase the frequency, size and duration of disclosures, which it argues are too minuscule and fleeting to provide adequate warning.
"The problem of pay-to-play news is becoming an epidemic on the public airwaves," said Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright, who sent the letter to the FCC. "People rely on the news to make major decisions about their lives including where to seek medical treatment or how to vote. They deserve to know when a newscast has been influenced by commercial considerations. And, more importantly, they deserve to know when programming that looks like real news coverage is in fact a commercial."