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News: Media
The Bush Administration is being investigated for producing “ready made” television news packages in which actors were paid to pose as journalists, it emerged today.
3:42pm (UK)
Bush Administration Accused of Manufacturing the News

By Mark Sage, PA News, in New York


The Bush Administration is being investigated for producing “ready made” television news packages in which actors were paid to pose as journalists, it emerged today.

“TV news releases” were sent to local stations to be run as part of main news programmes.

But Federal investigators have launched an investigation into whether the adverts were “propaganda”, amid allegations that they were an attempt to “manipulate the press”.

The “news” packages praised a new law, signed by the president in December, which the White House has said will make it easier for elderly American’s to obtain prescribed medicines.

In some of the features, there are pictures of Mr Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd as he signed the “Medicare” law.

The packages were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, but news viewers would have no way of knowing they were watching a Government-produced story, rather than an independent news report.

They have been screened in several states, including Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Two of the videos end with the voice of a woman who says: “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”

The production company, Home Front Communications, said “Karen Ryan” was hired to read a script prepared by the Government.

Scripts were pre-written for news anchors.

In one script the news reader is prompted to say: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare.

“Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities.

“Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” “Karen Ryan” then explains the benefits of the new law.

In another video, a pharmacist is shown speaking to an elderly customer.

They agree on camera that the new law is a “good idea” after the pharmacist explains that it “helps you better afford your medications”.

The made-for-TV-news packages are now being investigated by the General Accounting Office – an arm of Congress.

Under law federal money cannot be used for “publicity or propaganda purposes”, unless authorised by Congress.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the use of video news releases was “common”.

“Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools,” he told the New York Times.

But Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg called the video packages “disturbing”.

“The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press,” he said.

And Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, told the newspaper that the Government-made “news” items were “the next thing to fraud”.

“It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program,” he said.
See also:
http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2652922
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/15/politics/15VIDE.html


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