Irrational Exubera

Just when you start to think that San Francisco's local TV news (other than KRON of course) isn't half bad, you find out that good old KPIX CBS 5 recently aired a news segment full of canned corporate drivel — without disclosing its source.

Last week, the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy revealed that Emmy-nominated KPIX reporter Thuy Vu was among dozens of reporters nationwide to include material from corporate-produced video news releases in their coverage. Vu's reverent January 27 report on Exubera, an insulin inhaler co-developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and San Carlos company Nektar Therapeutics, integrated footage produced by MultiVu, a production company Pfizer hired, with no mention of the fact that KPIX wasn't responsible for the content.

Corporations and government agencies have long used video news releases (VNRs) — essentially live-action press releases — to transmit their version of the news to the public. The FCC considers the practice legal as long as the source of the content is disclosed, but it's ethically hazy.

KPIX rarely includes footage from VNRs in its stories, according to spokesperson Akilah Monifah, and only makes exceptions when “the footage is for background in a story, and it's footage that we did not possess.” Station policy is to attribute the source of that footage.

In the Exubera report, that didn't happen. Vu blended her own reporting and interviews at Nektar with product demos, graphics, and even an interview with a “patient” from the MultiVu release. Yet it seemed to viewers as if everything in the segment was produced by KPIX.

“[T]hat was clearly a mistake and a violation of our own policy and a violation of FCC rules,” Monifah said.

To make matters worse, Vu's report boiled down the release's 38 seconds of adverse side effects of the device into an eight-second aside.

So how and why did all this happen, and is KPIX going to do anything about it?

Um … no comment.

If KPIX is short on words, maybe the station should give the folks at Pfizer a call. Surely, they'd be glad to help.

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