Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation

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Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) is "made up of more than 3,000 news directors, news associates, educators and students. Founded as a grassroots organization in 1946, its purpose was to set standards of news gathering and reporting." [1]

Partnering with Ivanhoe

In November 2008, RTNDA announced that its foundation was offering "two new training opportunities for journalists," in conjunction with Ivanhoe Broadcast News. Ivanhoe is a Florida-based firm that provides medical and consumer segments to more than 250 television stations across the country, as of 2006. [1] According to journalism professor Gary Schwitzer, Ivanhoe's "medical breakthrough" segments aren't real health news, but ""single source stories with one spokesman from one institution touting one idea," complete with PR contacts. [2]

The Ivanhoe / RTNDA trainings include a three-month internship providing "professional training in health reporting at Ivanhoe headquarters," and a two-week fellowship "to travel to the Ivanhoe headquarters to focus on health and medical reporting." [3] Schwitzer responded, "Why doesn't RTNDA partner with the NIH Medicine in the Media workshop or the MIT Science Journalism Fellowships or with the Association of Health Care Journalists or with [the University of Minnesota's] project?" [2]

Stance on video news releases (VNRs)

Ducking and weaving on VNR disclosure

The failure of broadcasters to clearly label and identify their widespread use of video news releases and audio news releases appears to violate both the letter and spirt of the RTNDA's Code of Ethics.

In November 2004 the RTNDA issued members with revised guidelines to assess whether to use VNR material. The questions were:

  • "Could the station obtain the video or audio itself or through established editorial outlets, like network affiliate feeds.
  • If video/audio comes from a non-editorial source, its source be clearly identified in the newscast with graphics or voice-overs.
  • Are any interviews in the video or audio footage up to newsroom standards?
  • Before airing the story, the station should consider if it is in line with newsroom standards. Suggested questions include “whether more than one side is included; if there is a financial agenda to releasing the story; and if the viewers/listeners would believe the work done locally by your team?”
  • Station producers should question the source of the video if it comes from another news source, like network feeds.
  • If material comes from a group without a political or financial agenda (like education groups or non-profits), how does it add insight to newscast?" [2]

In an April 2005 interview RTNDA President Barbara Cochran argued against mandatory on-screen identification of video news releases so the viewer was informed of the origin of the material. While acknowledging that VNR material "is now flooding into stations from all different directions" she downplayed the extent of its use. "I don't think we really know how prevalent that [use of VNRs] is," she said. [3]

"You know, I think, again, the number of instances in which this material has actually been used are so few, relatively speaking, compared to all the information that goes out over the air all the time on so many local television stations," she claimed.

Use of VNR material, Cochran argued, was permissable under the RTNDA code as long as it was "included in something that is reported and originated by the journalists at that station".

"If a government video news release is used, it needs to be clearly labeled," she said though remaining silent on the issue of corporate VNRs. Nor does she support the Federal Communications Commission requiring stations to disclose VNRs. "I think that this is something that stations need to solve for themselves. It's in the station's interest to protect its credibility," she said.

In a June, 2005, interview with the Washington Times]], Cochran ridiculed charges that the use of fake TV news was widespread or undisclosed. Chris Baker reported that " The Radio-Television News Directors Association, a group that represents top newsroom managers, submitted a 13-page statement [to the Federal Communications Commission] that said few TV stations air VNRs, and those that do almost always identify the source. The association based its position on an informal survey of 100 members, according to Barbara Cochran, the group's president. Concrete data on VNR use is hard to come by, she said. " It's kind of like the Loch Ness Monster. Everyone talks about it, but not many people have actually seen it," Ms. Cochran said. [4]

Legal challenge to VNR investigation

In response to the revelations in the Center for Media and Democracy report the Federal Communications Commission began an investigation into the use of VNR's by 77 television stations. In October 2006 the RTNDA wrote to the FCC urging the investigation be terminated and the letters to the 77 stations rescinded. Aside from describing the CMD report - Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed - as "biased and inaccurate", RTNDA's objection centred on the timing of the enforcedment action before completion of a broader review of VNR usage by the FCC and its view that the regulator had previously " indicated that sponsorship identification rules do not apply in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material". RTNDA also claimed that the investigation "has had a chilling effect on the dissemination of newsworthy information to the public."


Contact details

1600 K Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20006-2838
Phone: (202) 659-6510
FaxFax: (202) 223-4007
E-mail: rtnda AT

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