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White House Defends Video News Releases

Associated Press | March 15 2005

Washington (AP) - The White House on Monday defended the administration's use of video news releases that are sent to television stations across the country and frequently used without any acknowledgment of the government's role in their production.

In an opinion last week, the Justice Department concluded that the practice was appropriate as long as the videos presented factual information about government programs. The memo was sent to heads of federal departments and agencies.

"The prohibition does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency," according to the Justice Department memo.

The advice conflicts with the opinion of the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO says that video news releases amount to illegal "covert propaganda" when they fail to make plain that the government is behind the releases.

Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey criticized the Justice Department's memo and asked Bush to order that it be rescinded.

"It is wrong to deceive the public with the creation of a phony news story," the lawmakers wrote. "It is also illegal."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said agency videos include "basic facts and material on what's going on in Afghanistan or Iraq or, often in the United States, related to important issues." He said the material is not propaganda and is clearly marked as coming from the U.S. government.

Boucher said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes more transparency is better.

"And so we've actually moved even beyond that and to start putting some kind of an intro screen to everything that says it's brought to you by the Department of State so that anybody who gets that video will know where it came from," he said.

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