Some Democratic Legislators Say Administration Videos Might Violate State Laws
In a hearing Thursday, Democratic legislators suggested that the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) might have violated state law by using taxpayer money to produce "news-like segments," including a video addressing state nurse staffing rules, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Berthelsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/11).
The Schwarzenegger administration on Wednesday said that it had produced several videos to promote its policies, including segments addressing the state's nurse-to-patient ratio rules and Schwarzenegger's proposal to reduce prescription drugs costs. The videos include suggested lines to be read by television news anchors and are narrated by a state employee, who previously worked as a reporter for a Sacramento television station. The videos also include interviews with supporters of the governor's proposals.
In the nurse staffing video, Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe calls the criticism of Schwarzenegger's proposal to delay implementation of nurse-to-patient ratio rules "scare tactics" and says that such a decision would not affect patient safety (California Health Line, 3/10).
Kenny Irby, the visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute, said the video news releases had become part of "cunning campaign strategies trying to shape coverage."
Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said, "You have a fake reporter reporting the news as if it were real," adding, "This is propaganda, produced at taxpayer expense" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/11).
Rick Rice, undersecretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, said the videos were news releases, adding, "It's done in a format that television news stations are familiar with." He said that it cost about $1,200 to produce each video, an amount he said was equal to the cost of producing a paper news release.
Romero suggested that legislators draft a budget language that "spells out more clearly the prohibition of creating propaganda at taxpayer expense."
The subcommittee is expected to act on the agency budget after it receives written opinions from the legislative counsel's office and the attorney general of the legality of the videos (Lawrence, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/11).