Unions File Suit in Superior Court Alleging Video News Releases Violate State Law
Officials for the California Labor Federation, the California Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union on Monday filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court against the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Health and Human Services Agency, alleging that video segments produced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration violate state law because they used government resources to produce propaganda, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Berthelsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/22).
The administration earlier this month said it had produced several videos to promote its policies, including the state's nurse-to-patient ratio rules and a proposal to reduce prescription drugs costs. The videos included suggested introduction lines to be read by television news anchors and were narrated by a state employee, who previously worked as a reporter for a Sacramento television station. The videos also included interviews with supporters of the governor's proposals.
During a hearing earlier this month held by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), some Democratic legislators suggested that the administration might have violated state law by using taxpayer money to produce the videos.
At the hearing, CLWDA Undersecretary Rick Rice said the videos were news releases and officials used a format with which television news stations are familiar. Rice said each video cost about $1,200 to produce, an amount he said is equal to the cost of producing a paper news release (California Healthline, 3/11).
The lawsuit requests that a judge bar the administration from producing similar video segments with public funds.
Rice said he would not comment on the case because he has not yet seen the complaint.
HHSA spokesperson Nicole Kasabian Evans also declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, she said the segments were a press release in video format and balanced the agency's position with critics' views. She said, "There is no statutory prohibition against the use of public funds to produce video news releases. No court has expressly disapproved the expenditure of public funds for VNRs. It is our responsibility to provide the public with information on regulatory issues. We do that with press releases all the time. This is another vehicle for that" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/22).