Corporate Television Networks
In and out of VNR's
According to the Observer:
- ITN, WHICH RECENTLY VOICED concern about the use of video news releases - television versions of press releases which are broadcast during news bulletins - is involved in producing them itself. It has a half stake in a company which makes video news releases (VNRs) and includes material in its own bulletins which has been supplied by that company, Corporate Television Networks.
- Channel 4, one of ITN's major customers, voiced its concern yesterday. 'While I understand ITN's wish to diversify, this is one particular business which raises many questions,' said David Lloyd, head of news and current affairs at C4. 'I hope there is some way we can remove VNRs entirely.' Mr Lloyd, who commissions Channel 4 News from ITN, did not know of ITN's share in Corporate Television Networks (CTN), whose clients include Glaxo, Unilever and the Department of Transport, until he was told last week.
- Stuart Prebble, ITV's head of factual programmes, who contracts ITN for his network's bulletins, was also unaware of the company's links with CTN. Even some senior ITN employees, such as Sara Nathan, editor of Channel 4 News, knew nothing of the connection. Anthony Hayward, managing director of corporate video company Bulletin Television News, which also makes VNRs, criticised ITN last night for 'having fingers in both pies'.
- Concern about the use of VNRs was voiced at the recent Edinburgh Television Festival, when some television executives said Greenpeace had outwitted them during the Brent Spar controversy by providing news bulletins with VNRs which helped win over public opinion against the dumping of the platform. The issue at stake is that of journalistic objectivity, with critics of VNRs arguing that material supplied from an interested party can influence the public and undermine a news programme's integrity.
- When ITN's chief executive, Stewart Purvis, presented a feature about VNRs on Radio 4's Medium Wave programme last week, he failed to mention ITN's half share in CTN or the fact that he was on the company's board. He also neglected to mention - while interviewing Alan Watson, a former presenter of The Money Programme and now chairman of Burson-Marsteller UK - that the company owns the other half of CTN. Burson-Marsteller, the world's biggest PR company, specialises in damage limitation. Clients have included Union Carbide after the Bhopal disaster and Exxon after the Valdez oil spill. Mr Watson is chairman of CTN and his son, Stephen, is managing director. 'I was simply asked by Medium Wave to look at the whole issue of VNRs,' said Mr Purvis. 'I brought in Alan as an expert in broadcasting and PR.'
- Medium Wave admits it did not know of ITN's stake, nor of Mr Watson's role in CTN, whose publicity boasts that VNRs enable those with a story to tell to reach a wide audience on network TV. The company's VNRs have also been shown on the BBC and Sky Television. It is also involved in media training, and pro-duces corporate videos and company television for firms such as IBM and Sun Alliance.
- Mr Purvis accepted there were legitimate concerns about VNRs, but argued that 'the greatest editorial disclipine against their abuse is the integrity of journalists'. As editor-in-chief of ITN until earlier this year, he said he had nothing to do with CTN. 'ITN's responsibility is to its board and the broadcast companies. CTN has no such brief,' he said.
- Mr Purvis sees no conflict between ITN's role as a news broadcaster and being half-owner of CTN. He said ITN always signals that a VNR was being broadcast. When it used a Department of Transport VNR about the M25, it said that it was the Department's footage, even though it was made by CTN for the department. 'The crucial point is who pays for the VNR, not who made it,' said Mr Purvis. Last week Mr Lloyd wrote to senior BBC, ITN and Sky News executives suggesting talks on new guide-lines for VNRs.
According to Stewart Purvis of ITN:
- When CTN was launched in 1992, it was with considerable fanfare. Press releases on the company have been issued frequently since. While ITN owns 50 per cent of CTN, the two companies operate as completely separate units. ITN's written guidelines on the use of video news releases " including those made by CTN " were tight-ened earlier this year. ITN uses them as seldom as possible. When extracts are used they are clearly la-belled as to the source of the footage. In approximately 1,000 hours of news broadcast by ITN during the last year, only one minute of CTN material has been used and was sourced to whoever had commissioned the original material.
In 1996 CTN claimed it was abandoning VNR production:
- Corporate Television News, the joint venture between ITN and Burson Marsteller, has abandoned VNR production. The announcement follows the suspension of the deal between BBC Resources and Medialink which aimed to give that VNR producer exclusive access to key BBC production and distribution facilities. But Stephen Watson, managing director at CTN, said the decision was purely commercial and was not related to wider controversy surrounding VNR use. According to Watson: We haven't produced VNRs for some time, and they now represent two per cent of CTN's turnover. So in 1996, we won't be producing VNRs.'
- Client: Birds Eye Wall's
- Agency: Burson-Marsteller
- VNR company: Corporate Television News
- Distribution: Media Link
- Cost: pounds 7,000
- At two o'clock one afternoon earlier this year, Birds Eye Wall's learned that the Office of Fair Trading had decided to refer the issue of ice cream cabinet agreements to the MMC. It was crucial for Wall's to respond immediately and defend the agreements system, under which ice cream manufacturers supply retail-ers with freezers free of charge in return for the exclusive sale of their products.
- The company felt particularly under pressure because it was being accused of using unfair trading practices by other ice cream manufacturers, including Mars. Wall's PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, recommended that it produced a VNR for that evening's national news bulletins, providing a rapid response and letting it control the messages. We needed to put Wall's posi-tion quickly to the media,' says John Brown, deputy chief executive at B-M. We had filmed, edited and distributed the VNR by 5pm.'
- The footage included an interview with Birds Eye Wall's chairman John Sharp along with pictures of cabinets in store. It was used by the BBC's Six O'Clock and Nine O'Clock News and ITN's News at Ten. Mars' response, by comparison, was low key and the firm was not directly quoted in any of the broadcasts.
- To anyone considering a VNR for the first time in this type of situation, Brown stresses that it is crucial to decide immediately whether the story really is newsworthy and to establish how the company wants to play it. Is it better to hide under the table and let someone else speak on your behalf or are you going to come out and state your case yourself?' he asks. In this instance a VNR assured us of three things: speed - to make sure we met all the news deadlines - accuracy and control.'
- Corporate Television Networks Limited, Abbreviated Statutory Accounts, 31 December 2002, Company registration Number 02214359
- Richard Brooks Media Editor ITN 'HAS FINGERS IN BOTH PIES' ON VIDEO NEWS The Observer September 10, 1995, Sunday, SECTION: THE OBSERVER NEWS PAGE; Pg. 4, HIGHLIGHT: TV company attacked over part-ownership of firm producing corporate bulletins
- Stewart Purvis, chief executive, ITN, London, WC1 LETTER: LIES AND VIDEOTAPE SECTION: THE OBSERVER September 17, 1995, Sunday REVIEW PAGE; Pg. 6
- MICHAEL KAVANAGH CTN pulls the plug on production of VNRs PR Week January 19, 1996
- PR Week September 30, 1993 Special Report on Video News Releases: Sailing into unknown wa-ters - Cool response in a cold war
- PR Week July 15, 1994 Carousel: Caroline Randle is snapped up by Fox Parrack Fox, Laura Oliphant makes a splash at the NRA, and Tracey Matthews bonds with Fusion Communications SECTION: Pg. 13
- Linked In Mike Nolan, accessed 24 February 2010. Screengrab here