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White House Defends Video News Releases

Schweddy

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Source: Yahoo news

WASHINGTON - The White House on Monday defended the administration's use of video news releases that are sent to television stations across the country and frequently used without any acknowledgment of the government's role in their production.

In an opinion last week, the Justice Department concluded that the practice was appropriate as long as the videos presented factual information about government programs. The memo was sent to heads of federal departments and agencies.

"The prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency," according to the Justice Department memo.

The advice conflicts with the opinion of the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO says that video news releases amount to illegal "covert propaganda" when they fail to make plain that the government is behind the releases.

Questions have been raised about government media practices after the revelation that conservative columnists were paid to promote administration policies and did not tell their audiences that they had received federal money. President Bush, after the practice was disclosed, said it was wrong and ordered that it stop.
 

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The Bush administration, rejecting an opinion from the Government Accountability Office, said last week that it is legal for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role in producing them.
That message, in memos sent Friday to federal agency heads and general counsels, contradicts a Feb. 17 memo from Comptroller General David M. Walker. Walker wrote that such stories -- designed to resemble independently reported broadcast news stories so that TV stations can run them without editing -- violate provisions in annual appropriations laws that ban covert propaganda.

But Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said in memos last week that the administration disagrees with the GAO's ruling. And, in any case, they wrote, the department's Office of Legal Counsel, not the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, provides binding legal interpretations for federal agencies to follow.
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