Government Accountability Office Warns Federal Agencies, Bush Administration

This is news. Anne E. Kornblut reports from the NY Times,

The comptroller general has issued a blanket warning that reminds federal agencies they may not produce newscasts promoting administration policies without clearly stating that the government itself is the source.

Twice in the last two years, agencies of the federal government have been caught distributing prepackaged television programs that used paid spokesmen acting as newscasters and, in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the administration's role in developing and financing them.

And those were not isolated incidents, David M. Walker, the comptroller general, said in a letter dated Thursday that put all agency heads on notice about the practice.

In fact, it has become increasingly common for federal agencies to adopt the public relations tactic of producing "video news releases" that look indistinguishable from authentic newscasts and, as ready-made and cost-free reports, are sometimes picked up by local news programs. It is illegal for the government to produce or distribute such publicity material domestically without disclosing its own role.

Mr. Walker, who as comptroller general is chief of the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm, said in his letter: "While agencies generally have the right to disseminate information about their policies and activities, agencies may not use appropriated funds to produce or distribute prepackaged news stories intended to be viewed by television audiences that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."


"The G.A.O. is sending a clear message to the Bush administration: shut down the propaganda mill," Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey said in a statement on Friday. "The G.A.O. is simply telling the White House to stop manipulating media, stop paying journalists and be straight with the American people."


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