FCC urges fine for Comcast

VNR was aired as part of newscast

WASHINGTON -- Federal media regulators want to hit Comcast with the government's first fine for showing a so-called "video news release" without telling viewers that they got paid for it.

On Tuesday, the FCC proposed fining the nation's largest cable company $4,000 for showing a "VNR" for "Nelson's Rescue Sleep" without telling people it wasn't a bona fide newscast.

Although the fine is small, it signals a readiness by the commission to go after media companies on sponsorship issues. Just last week, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said that the agency was attempting to decide whether product integrations should carry some sponsorship ID.

The Enforcement Bureau's action proposing the fine, officially known as a Notice of Liability, expands the commission's authority over cable outlets.

Unlike broadcast programming, the FCC is generally proscribed from interfering with the content sent to viewers via cable or satellite.

The bureau contends, however, that the rules apply to a cable system "when a cable television system operator engages in origination cablecasting, it must identify the sponsor of a material whenever that operator accepts money, service or other valuable consideration to air that material."

Comcast objects, saying that transmitting the portions of the VNR for a homeopathic sleeping aid as part of a newscast on CN8 did not violate the rules.

"The relevant statute does not cover cable programming, and even if it did, CN8's programming was entirely consistent with the statute," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said. "The segments in question were chosen by journalists in the course of reporting, and Comcast received no consideration or benefit by using the material."

While Comcast can contest the proposed fine, it appears to have broad support from the commissioners.