Ethical confusion affects journalism

Miami Herald
Monday, November 3, 2003

The latest media mini-scandal concerns the practice of charging people fees to be interviewed on shows that are made to seem like news programs. The two cases that have created a fuss are squalid little affairs from the fringes of the media business -- the mongrel domain of infomercials and advertorials. There, crypto-advertising is presented with its commercial character hidden behind the formats that we're trained to associate with honest reporting.

• The first case, reported by The Washington Post last month, involves Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA. Its morning program, Daytime, follows NBC's Today show. Like Today, Daytime has guests interviewed by host and hostess on leather chairs right outside a kitchen. It airs with the NBC peacock and a ''News Channel 8'' logo at the bottom of the screen. And that four- to six-minute interview will cost $2,500. Only a disclaimer at the end of the show indicates which segments were paid for.

• The second case, reported by The New York Times, involves the Sky Radio Network, which produces programs aired by Forbes Radio for the three million passengers who fly American Airlines each month.

A Sky Radio producer made the mistake of inviting the head of the Center for Justice and Democracy to be interviewed about civil-justice reform. She learned that the fee would be $5,900. She was appalled. As director of a consumer group whose board includes Ralph Nader and Erin Brockovich, she knew what to do. She ratted out the operation to the Federal Trade Commission and, apparently, The Times.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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