The truth is coming to light - all a matter of timing - beyond their control
Here is the news... from President Bush
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
14 March 2005
The Bush administration has produced look-alike news propaganda clips and then persuaded television stations across the country to air them uncritically and, often, uncut. As many as 20 government departments have produced fake news which stations broadcast as though they had produced the segments themselves, according to The New York Times.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is at the centre of a growing controversy over the same thing - using public funds to make short pseudo-journalistic films touting controversial policies and passing them on to local television news stations which have aired them without comment.
Both the Bush and the Schwarzenegger administrations have gone so far as to script introductory lines for the news anchor to read out.
The phenomenon - known to its detractors as "covert propaganda" and to its advocates as putting out video news-releases - is deeply troubling in a country that prides itself on media independence.
The controversy consists of two distinct parts. The first is the questionable legality of the officials' actions, which have come under challenge from congressional and legislative oversight committees. And the second is the questionable ethics of the television news directors who permit the segments to air without balancing comment from critics.
Most of the stations that have used the segments - on subjects as varied as the Iraq war and Governor Schwarzenegger's controversial plans to curtail union power - have been small ones relying on news feeds of all kinds to fill their schedules.
Last month, the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, issued a damning report on the Bush administration's use of the practice, concluding that their clips were intentionally deceptive. "Prepackaged news stories can be utilised without violating the law," wrote US comptroller David Walker, "so long as there is clear disclosure that this material was prepared by the government department".
An initial finding by California's legislative analyst's office last week found no legal basis for the Schwarzenegger administration's video releases. Los Angeles lawmaker Gloria Romero told a state Senate hearing: "This is propaganda, produced at taxpayer expense."
17 March 2005 04:41
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