Sunday, March 21, 2004

Eighteen journalism groups decry HHS's use of fake news reports

Be sure to check out the letter ASNE sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, too.

This just came over the wire from the Journalism and Women Symposium:


March 18, 2004

Eighteen journalism groups decry HHS's use of fake news reports

Seventeen journalism organizations ^Ö representing more than 25,000
journalists ^Ö today joined the Association of Health Care Journalists in
asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to stop
using video news releases that have the appearance of authentic news
reports. AHCJ President Andrew Holtz made the request in a telephone call
to HHS spokesman William Pierce on Tuesday.

On Monday the New York Times reported that the Bush administration paid
people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare
law, including expanded coverage of prescription medicines.

In a joint statement, the groups said:

We ask that public agencies stop producing videos that imitate television
news stories or use announcers who identify themselves as reporters.
Viewers expect a reporter to be a journalist employed by a news
organization. In this case, the so-called reporter was working for a
public relations firm hired by a government agency. We find that
misidentification unacceptable.
The groups called on all news organizations to preserve their
journalistic independence by avoiding the use of such video news releases
and warned the public to question the integrity of any such message.

HHS spokesman Pierce told the Association of Health Care Journalists that
the agency sees no distinction between a video news release and a printed
news release. Even though the videos about changes to Medicare were
edited and produced to look like news reports, he said the videos were
meant to simply suggest how television stations might report the Medicare
story and that the agency had ^Óno expectation^Ô the video news releases
would air in full.

AHCJ President Andrew Holtz, an independent journalist in Portland,
Oregon, said:

"I called HHS spokesman Bill Pierce Tuesday and asked him to help put an
end to video news releases that may mislead viewers. This administration
may not be the first to use them, but it should be the last. Government
officials have a duty to communicate to the public, but they should speak
for themselves and not hide behind a paid announcer who is falsely
identified as a ^Ñreporter.^Ò^Ô

Leaders of other journalism organizations voiced similar sentiments.
Deborah Blum, president of the National Association of Science Writers,
said: ^ÓThe National Association of Science Writers objects to the use
of fake reporters and fake interviews in video news releases by the
federal government or any other agency. We have 3,000 members who
believe in honest communication of science and medicine and all of us
believe that such deceptive practices cheat the very people who most
need information provided with integrity.^Ô

Dan Fagin, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, noted:
^ÓWe've seen a disturbing trend recently of public agencies closing off
access to documents and other important information. Now that the
government is disguising public-relations

messages as phony news reports, the public will be even more in the
dark. A healthy democracy needs open government and credible

And, Ernest R. Sotomayor, president of UNITY, an alliance of the four
major organizations of journalists of color, said: ^ÓIt is a dishonest
practice that erodes already-waning public trust of our government and
damages our ability to operate effectively.^Ô

The groups that joined in this statement are:

Association of Health Care Journalists

Association of Hispanic Journalists

Society of Environmental Journalists

National Association of Science Writers

Society of Professional Journalists

Religion Newswriters Association

National Conference of Editorial Writers

National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Native American Journalists Association

Criminal Justice Journalists

Online News Association

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Society of American Business Editors and Writers

American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors

American Society of Business Publication Editors

National Press Foundation

Journalism and Women Symposium

UNITY, an alliance of the four major organizations of journalists of


Andrew S. Holtz

AHCJ President


Portland, OR

Phone: (503) 292-1699

Fax: (561) 828-7938


Melinda Voss, MPH

AHCJ Executive Director

206 Church St. SE

Minneapolis, MN 55455-0418

Phone: (612) 624-8877

Fax: (612) 626-8251

No comments: