Richard G. Petty, MD

Fake News

There was a report in the British Medical Journal in April that got very little publicity, and even came in under my pretty sensitive radar.

The Center for Media and Democracy, a public interest group based in Madison, Wisconsin, that exposes "public relations spin and propaganda," issued a report that tracked the use of 36 video news releases (VNRs) aired by news outlets over the past 10 months. VNRs are designed to look like independently produced news but they are actually prepackaged promotions containing film footage created by corporate publicists or their public relations firms.

The media is always hungry for new material, but I was surprised to see that during the tracking period stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety more than one-third of the time. The other point of importance was that VNRs were not only widely used but their source was usually not disclosed. Another worrisome thing was that when it came to pharmaceuticals the safety data was usually shortened or even removed.

I have no problem at all with advertising and marketing. But it is surely misleading to dress up a company release as a news story.

To be fair, most television networks have rules and disclosure policies, but they are obviously sometimes (often?) being ignored.

I have been looking to see if there has been any change since this report came out in April, and I don’t see anything.

This strikes me as an important issues, so I shall continue to track it on your behalf.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

Comments

2 Responses to “Fake News”
  1. Daniel Price says:

    Hi Richard,

    Just last week, the Center for Media and Democracy released a follow-up report on VNRs called “Still Not the News,” in which an additional 33 VNRs were found to have been used in newscasts without proper attribution.

    One of them was for FluLaval, a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline. WJAR-10 (Providence, RI) turned the VNR into a health segment, covering all of the positives of FluLaval and yet ignoring over two minutes of “fair balance” safety information that came with the VNR.

    You can find the whole report at http://www.stopfakenews.org. The GlaxoSmithKline VNR is covered at http://www.prwatch.org/fakenews2/vnr65.

    Just so you know, the FCC is still investigating the stations exposed in our first report. If they decide that these stations did indeed violate the Sponsorship Identification rules as set forth by the Federal Communications Act, it’s entirely possible that these stations will be fined. Keep checking the Center’s website (http://www.prwatch.org) for updates.

    As the co-author of both VNR reports, I really appreciate your attention to this matter. Undisclosed VNRs are bad enough by themselves, but when they come from the medical/drug industry (as many of them do), they can be downright dangerous.

  2. Dear Daniel,

    Thank you so much for the update.

    Your reports have done us all a great service. You may have seen that I have also talked about medical correspondents who don’t check their facts. I have seen two MDs on national television who – whether they knew it or not – repeated material that came directly from pharmaceutical companies.

    It worries me that your findings seem to have received so little publicity. I mentioned that I found the article in the BMJ almost by chance.

    I think that this shows the potential for blogs to do something useful in providing checks and balances in the provision of information about health, and I plan to raise your findings during my presentation at the Healthcare Blogging Summit in Washington next month.

    Kind regards,

    RP

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