Channel 13 fined by FCC for making ads look like news

The enforcement arm of the FCC has completed an investigation of KTNV-TV, Channel 13 and has fined the station $115,000 for broadcasting car dealership ads disguised as news “Special Reports.”

“Broadcasters are not allowed to deceive the public by presenting commercial announcements or other paid programming in the guise of news or editorial content,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “Transparency is especially crucial in a situation like this one where a pseudo news report invites viewers to rely on their perception of the station’s independence and objectivity when, in fact, the message has been bought and paid for by an undisclosed third party.”

Frankly, I don’t ever recall seeing one of those “Special News” — Who in their right mind watches Channel 13 “news” anyway? — but it doesn’t sound all that deceptive. I’m sure most people who’ve stopped believing in Santa Claus saw through the ruse. What about the First Amendment? Even if the airwaves are limited, which in this day and age is a joke.

The FCC “uncovered” the fact an advertising agency paid Channel 13 to produce the “Special Reports” about liquidation sales at local Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Nissan, and Hyundai car dealerships in Las Vegas in 2009. The reports featured a KTNV staff person on location at the dealerships posing as a journalist.

The station, in addition to the fine, must implement a compliance plan and file compliance reports with the FCC every year for three years.

The local newspaper said station managers were not available for comment.

Neither were the newspaper’s managers available to comment on how relieved they are that there is no FCC oversight of newspapers.

The Society of Profession Journalists has an ethics code that includes:

Journalists should:

– Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

– Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

The code also says:

Journalists should:

– Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

I don’t recall anyone blowing the whistle on Channel 13 back in 2009, but, like I said, who watched Channel 13? Perhaps this is one reason why.