Washington, DC: Taxpayer-funded video “news” stories prepared by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to simulate private newscasts constitute “covert propaganda” and are in violation of federal anti-propaganda laws, according to the findings of an investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO).
The videos, which were distributed to approximately 770 news stations nationwide between the years 2002 and 2004, were designed “to be indistinguishable from news stories produced by private sector television news organizations,” the GAO found. “ONDCP did this so they could be seamlessly incorporated into private sector television news broadcasts without alteration. … ONDCP did not identify itself to the viewing audience … [and] made it impossible for the targeted viewing audience to ascertain that these stories were produced by the government, and not by the news organization broadcasting them.”
Nearly 300 stations broadcasted the ONDCP’s prepackaged reports, which were seen by some 22 million households. The agency spent more than $150,000 in taxpayer funds to produce and distribute the videos, which were paid for as part of the White House’s National Drug Free Media Campaign. The Campaign, which began in 1998, spends approximately $150 million annually to produce and purchase public service announcements warning about the alleged dangers of marijuana, among other anti-drug themes. However, a series of federally funded reviews of the program found that teens who were most exposed to the Campaign’s ads tended to “move more markedly in a ‘pro-drug’ direction as they aged than those who were exposed to less.”
Previously, the Federal Communications Commissioned (FCC) had sanctioned organizers of the Campaign for sponsoring advertisements and television content without identifying the ONDCP as the paid sponsor of the programming, in violation of federal anti-payola laws.
“When an entity, particularly the federal government, purchases on-air time to persuade the public audience, the public has a legal right under the law to know that they are hearing or viewing content which has been paid for, and they also have a legal right to know who has paid for it,” NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said. “Just because that content is sponsored by the Drug Czar’s office under the guise of fighting the ‘war on drugs’ does not give them permission to flout federal law.”