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PR Watch: The Weekly Spin (March 22, 2006)

THE WEEKLY SPIN, March 22, 2006

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1. U.S. Military Has No Problem with Propaganda
2. Words About "Images"
3. La Raza Unida for Telecom Deregulation?
4. Non-Profit 'Watchdog' Well Fed By ExxonMobil
5. Sudan Promotes Self to NY Times Readers
6. Not Necessarily the News
7. Sinclair Further Downsizes Local TV News
8. Public Radio's Advertising Creep
9. Mexico's Corporate Media: Consolidation Knows No Borders
10. On TV News, the Ads Never End (Part Two)



The New York Times reports that the U.S. military's review of a PR
firm's covert propaganda program in Iraq, led by Rear Adm. Scott Van
Buskirk, has been completed but not made public. According to
military officials, "The findings are narrow in focus, and conclude
that the Lincoln Group committed no legal violations because its
actions in paying to place American [information operations
troops]-written articles without attribution were not expressly
prohibited by its contract or military rules." The report "did not
deal deeply" with such issues as how the small, young,
well-connected firm received large government contracts, or whether
its work was effective. It also did not address how, "in a modern
information world connected by satellite television and the
Internet, misleading information and lies could easily migrate into
American news outlets." The Lincoln Group's Iraq work, on "a
contract estimated at several million dollars," remains "fully in
effect." The firm continues to bid for U.S. government contracts.
SOURCE: New York Times, March 22, 2006
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"George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld actually need the
media now more than ever," writes the Columbia Journalism Review's
Gal Beckerman. Although the "conventional wisdom ... is that this
administration views the press as vampires view garlic," White House
criticisms of the media "have become essential to the
administration's contention that progress is being made." The effect
of this argument, Beckerman writes, is to sugggest that "We're not
seeing car bombs ripping entire blocks apart and blowing dozens of
Iraqis to bits. We're seeing images of car bombs ripping entire
blocks apart and blowing dozens of Iraqis to bits. ... Because the
violence is only 'on their television screens,' it's as if it does
not actually exist out there in the world; it is only the 'image' of
violence. ... There's no doubt the administration would love more
images of Iraqi children playing in the street. But this same
derision of the media also serves a purpose in itself in the
administration's campaign to win over the home front. If the media
cannot be trusted, then we shouldn't trust what we think we know
about Iraq. Instead, the administration is saying, just trust us."
SOURCE: CJR Daily, March 21, 2006
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"When 15 Latino groups sent a letter to top Senate Commerce
Committee lawmakers urging video-franchising relief for the Bell
telecommunications firms, the appeal appeared to be on behalf of
Hispanic Americans," writes David Hatch. "But critics said the
letter also was on behalf of the Bell firms AT&T and Verizon
Communications, which have financial and business ties to many of
the signatories. ... Among the signers was the National Hispanic
Media Coalition, which became a client of the Washington-based
lobbying firm Mickey Ibarra and Associates on Feb. 23. Ibarra is a
registered lobbyist for Verizon and Consumers for Cable Choice,
which is funded partly by Bell companies."
SOURCE: National Journal, March 17, 2006
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The Wall Street Journal reports that Public Interest Watch (PIW), a
non-profit 'watchdog' group which sucessfully lobbied for an
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax audit of Greenpeace, has been
heavily funded by ExxonMobil. Two years after PIW urged an IRS
investigation, Greenpeace was subjected to a three-month long audit.
Steve Stecklow reports that PIW's "most recent federal tax filing,
covering August 2003 to July 2004, states that $120,000 of the
$124,094" came from the oil company. ExxonMobil confirmed that they
had funded the group at that time but no longer do. According to
Greenpeace USA executive director John Passacantando, the IRS
auditor, Charles Walker, told him the investigation was in response
to PIW's complaint. In March this year Greenpeace was informed that
it retained its tax exempt status. PIW's Executive Director Lewis
Fein has refused to disclose any of the groups current funders.
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (sub req'd), March 21, 2006
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The Government of Sudan -- tired of international media focusing on
the country's ongoing genocide -- paid for an upbeat eight-page
advertising insert in Monday's New York Times. O'Dwyer's PR Daily
reports that Summit Communications prepared the insert which "extols
the investment opportunities in the energy-rich state" but "has no
rebuttal to United Nations and U.S. accusations that the Sudanese
Government is funding the Arab militia that have raped, murdered and
driven two million Darfur villagers into refugee camps." According
the its website, Summit Communications specializes in countering the
"crisis-driven orientation of American news outlets" that provide
"insufficient coverage of the sweeping reforms and positive
developments taking place in emerging markets." In their "Africa
Policy Outlook 2006" report, Foreign Policy In Focus writes that
this year "is likely to be the pivotal year in determining the
course of U.S. relations with Sudan and the ultimate response to the
genocide in Darfur."
SOURCE: O'Dwyer's PR Daily, March 20, 2006
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A soldier who blogs from Iraq is upset that he didn't hear the
country was on the brink of civil war until he happened to phone
home to his parents. "That was the first I¹d heard about the
mosque getting blown up and this was two or three days after it
happened," he writes. "I¹m IN Iraq and have no idea what¹s going
on. A few months back I came to the conclusion that I¹m fed
nothing but propaganda and now it seems like my theory is dead on."
He says that Stars and Stripes, the newspaper published for soldiers
by the military, largely ignores reports on the fighting and instead
talks about "how 'great' the Iraqi Army/Police are becoming, how we
built some school or water plant and how Haji is so grateful for it,
or how such and such a unit found the mother of all weapons caches
in some garden in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere. ... I can tell you
that this place isn¹t Candy Land. Car bombs are going off killing
civilians, people are blowing up mosques, the kidnapping and
subsequently beheading of people, these fuckers don¹t wear
identifiable uniforms, and friends of friends are getting killed
over here. I personally find it insulting that what little amount of
news I¹m given isn¹t realistic. I feel like the main character
in 'Clockwork Orange' with his eyelids held open while being
SOURCE: Fun With Hand Grenades, March 20, 2006
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"Sinclair Broadcast Group is scaling back its News Central operation
... opting to seek out news share arrangements," reports Katy
Bachman. "Beginning March 31, Sinclair will no longer feed live,
anchored prime-time newscasts to its stations," though it will
continue to provide some content and support "to the 20 of its 58
stations that produce local news." A statement from Sinclair
explained, "Because the costs to produce high quality local news are
so significant, moving to a news sharing partnership with a strong
network affiliated station can provide an effective means to bring
additional news coverage to the market." Bachman notes that under
the new arrangement, "news operations are expected to close down at
four of Sinclair's WB stations in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Tampa and
Raleigh." Sinclair news director Joe DeFeo said, "Our local news
staff at our WB stations should take pride in the solid and
professional newscasts they produced."
SOURCE: Mediaweek, March 16, 2006
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"As its federal funding came under threat," U.S. National Public
Radio increased its ad sales. "Public-radio stations now count 18%
of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal
government." Corporate "underwriters" include Clear Channel
Communications, Starbucks and Wal-Mart Stores. "More on-air
sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than
lumped at the end of each show," reports Sarah McBride. "And more
minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener
for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible." The
trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio
stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but
"weren't bothered by" fundraising by direct mail or on-air
underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener
concerns "about corporate influence on programming as well as the
number of messages" are increasing.
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (sub req'd), March 17, 2006
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"Money will define the right to communicate," warned media analyst
Néstor Cortés, regarding a bill before the Mexican Senate that
would likely further media consolidation in the country. The bill,
which has already passed the House of Representatives, "would allow
stations that have already been assigned a frequency to branch out
into digital services of all kinds simply by notifying the
government, while potential new competitors" -- including
educational and community media -- "would have to participate in a
public bidding process." Mexico's biggest TV companies are Televisa
and Azteca, and radio stations "are concentrated in the hands of 13
business groups." While Senators have criticized the bill, the
opposition has "been thoroughly ignored by the newscasts and talk
show programs" on TV. Mexico's media conglomerates are lobbying for
the bill. One newspaper "published a transcript of a series of
telephone conversations between a Televisa lawyer and legislators
and businesspeople," revealing the extent to which the company is
pushing for the bill.
SOURCE: New America Media, March 15, 2006
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"With TV stations facing increased competition and pressure on
advertising revenue ... product placement, media and branded
entertainment agencies say they are increasingly being pitched
opportunities from local stations to integrate their clients'
products into news programing in exchange for buying commercial time
or paying integration fees," reports Gail Schiller. KRON-TV in San
Francisco, KMEX-TV in Los Angeles, and KPTV-TV in Portland
"confirmed that they have integrated advertisers into their
newscasts." KCAL-TV in Los Angeles and Gannett NBC affiliates in
Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Cleveland "are experimenting with
integration into newsmagazine-type shows that they describe as
entertainment rather than news." Recently, ABC's "Good Morning
America" broadcast from a cruise ship. The cruise company "did not
pay integration fees," but "did foot the bill for airfare, room and
board to send nearly 300 women," who won an ABC contest, on the
cruise. Radio-Television News Directors Association president
Barbara Cochran warned, "If viewers start thinking your news is for
sale, then the credibility of your news is lost and your audience is
SOURCE: Reuters, March 15, 2006
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