Mother Jones’ Michael Mechanic reports that San Francisco’s KRON TV 4 is having trouble keeping their advertising separate from their journalism.
Unethical blurring of the boundaries between editorial and advertising, also referred to as church and state, has always been troublesome in journalism but now appears worse due to the economic crisis.
Mechanic writes about a lawyer, Amy Shelf, who recently received a sales call from a KRON advertising representative who offered to feature her legal services “in a 5-minute monthly segment” for a fee. The KRON TV rep assured her that the segment would look “like news.” This reminds StinkyJournalism of our earlier report on CBS sports anchor Greg Gumbel’s undisclosed infomercials where companies would pay to be featured in “5 minute” “educational programing” that also, deceptively, looked like news.
“KRON’s sales rep,” Mechanic said, “quickly added that the paid segments were identified as such, but Amy still wasn’t buying. Proper disclosure, of course, would make the whole thing just a bit less slimy. So I went online and viewed some of the segments in question.”
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Mechanic describes KRON’s commercials as “complete with a news ticker scrolling past underneath and chirons (the graphic tags that identify the person speaking) that are pretty much indistinguishable from those you’d see on regular news segments.”
Just like in the Greg Gumbel infomercials, a real anchor and newsroom-look completes the illusion of a news broadcast.
Mechanic watched “Vicki Liviakis, one of the station’s longtime anchors…hawking condos.” Is it lifestyle programming or an ad? “Hi everybody, I’m Vicki Liviakis. Not only did we discover this gem, but you won’t believe the price!”
SFWeekly.com reports they contacted KRON Acting General Manager Brian Greif to ask him about Mechanic’s story. Greif said they “meet all ethical and legal broadcast standards.”