In recent years, federal agencies have been increasing their use of video news releases (VNRs), which frequently include prepackaged news stories. While the use of VNRs is widespread and widely known by those in the media industry, the quality and content of materials considered to constitute a VNR can vary greatly. Generally, a VNR package may contain several items, including a series of video clips, known as B-roll footage; title cards containing relevant information, known as slates; a prepackaged news story, referred to as a story package; and other promotional materials. These materials are produced in the same manner as television news organizations produce materials for their own news segments. The prepackaged news stories are distributed to local television news stations and are designed to resemble actual news stories. By eliminating the costs and effort of producing an original news story, agencies can find news stations willing to broadcast a favorable news segment on a desired topic. GAO examined prepackaged news stories produced by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy and evaluated whether these materials constituted covert propaganda in violation of the prohibition on using appropriated funds for publicity and propaganda not authorized by Congress.
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