The Government Accountability Office has cautioned federal agencies that using prepackaged video news releases could violate federal laws against government propaganda.
In a Feb. 17 memo to all federal agencies, Comptroller General David M. Walker, who heads the investigative office of Congress, said a government agency sending out such releases without clear disclosure that they were produced by or in coordination with the government would be violating federal law. Those kinds of releases are frequently used public relations tools in which the sponsor’s message is packaged as a news story, with a narrator purporting to be a reporter.
Last year, the GAO chastised the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy for distributing video news releases that some television stations aired.
It was later revealed that the Department of Education also sent out at least two such releases, one touting the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the other publicizing 2003 math and reading results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In his memo last month, Mr. Walker said federal agencies are not prohibited from distributing video news releases altogether.
“Prepackaged news stories can be utilized without violating the law, so long as there is clear disclosure to the television audience” that it came from the government, his memo says.
A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2005 edition of Education Week